From a homily by John of Landsperg(Carthusian Monk +1539)
Our loving and meek Creator, no longer being able to stand the loss of humankind and moved by his own ineffable pity, sent not just any angel but one of their leaders, Gabriel the Archangel, to a city of Galilee called Nazareth. There the parents of the future Mother of God were known to dwell; and we understand that in their house, already returned from the Temple and engaged to Joseph, dwelt the most blessed Virgin.
So he was sent to a virgin. O what a virgin, virgin forever, virgin both in body and in soul! Virgin resplendent with a purity surpassing even that of the angels, a virgin so beautiful that among the countless throng of mankind, she was the very one whom the Son of the Most High wanted to have as his mother!
So to this virgin entered the angel and greeted her, carrying her a message from God, such a message as never before that day had been brought to our earth. And how was it that he entered to her? As in an enclosure she was sitting in her father’s house, praying with a total application for the liberation of mankind, busy with contemplating God, and, as it were, absorbed in him. For because of the exceeding purity of her heart, her soul was ever united to God: so that as often as she wanted to, she could ascend to God in contemplation.
So as she was sitting and entreating God with great fervour that he might deign to send the Messiah, the angel entered into her shelter where she was alone with God and said (very respectfully of course, as it was fitting to address a future Mother of God): «Hail full of grace, adorned with all virtues, every gift and charism! To others it comes partially, but to you has been given the fullness of all grace».
Hail then, O Mary, full of grace, preserved from the tiniest smudge of sin, you are all beautiful, all immaculate, full of all grace. In you there never was even for an instant anything that displeased God; grace filled you and possessed you entirely. The Lord is with you – the entire Trinity! And not in an ordinary way, but in a special and absolutely singular way. For the Lord finds pleasure in you; he who created you finds his delight in staying with you, attracted by your beauty. He surrounds you entirely so that the foes have no access to you; he is always with you and remains in you. He confirms you and surrounds you with his grace; he never leaves you but is preparing within you a fitting dwelling-place for his Son whom he wants to be born from you.
Blessed are you among women – blessed are you above all creatures! For you are favoured with such blessings of the divine sweetness that your almighty Creator has decided to become your Son, and he who in himself is endless has wanted to be born a small child from you! Blessed are you among women, who both enjoy the honours of virginity and are going to be the mother of the Most High; alone among all women you are to conceive without loss of modesty and give birth without pain. From this conceiving and giving birth you are going to be much purer and holier still.
Taken from: Lectionary for Matins – Year C – 8 December: Readings 9 to 12
Beatrice of Ornacieux was born of noble lineage in the second half of the twelfth century, in Southeastern France. At thirteen, with the precocious maturity of medieval women, she joined the Carthusian nuns of Parménie, where she had for novice mistress Marguerite of Oingt, a nun well known even today for the writings she has left us. She also wrote the life of her holy novice.
Beatrice was very charitable and patient, providing help to all the necessities of her sisters, working in the kitchen and the infirmary.
The Evil one tormented her with dreadful impure fantasies and nocturnal phantasms: ferocious animals and frightful noises. At first her reaction was to ask God to take her out of the exile of this earthly life, but a miraculous voice told her not to desire anything which would not accomplish the will of God. “Receive the consolations that I give you and refuse not the sufferings that I send you”, the voice added. From then on she abandoned herself into God’s hands and she only wanted to do His will.
Beatrice was an ardent soul, aflame with love for her Bridegroom Jesus Christ. This love was the dynamic behind the life of penance she led to follow Christ as close as possible in his sufferings. He responded to her ardent love and sacrifices by granting her an intimate knowledge of Himself. Later, however, the apparent abandonment of the Lord made her suffer very much. Eventually Beatrice enjoyed full union with God and regained her perfect peace of soul, never to lose it again.
In 1300, Parménie made a new foundation at Eymeu, also in the Southeastern France. Beatrice was chosen to be its foundress and Prioress. There she died a holy death, November 25, 1303.
When the Order was not able to keep up Eymeu, her relics were brought to Parménie. The latter monastery had to be abandoned because of an uprising of the Albigensians. Soon after the nuns fled from the monastery, the heretics burned the House, and the precious relics of Blessed Beatrice got lost in the rubbish of the destruction. Yet her cult was never to die, especially in the Carthusian Order, where she was continually honored, as an abundant iconography shows us. In the seventeenth century a shepherdess of that region found the relics, and in 1697 Cardinal Le Camus declared that they were authentic. They were again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble in 1839, with the opening of her tomb. In 1869 Blessed Pius IX permitted her feast to be celebrated in the Carthusian Order every November 25.
Father, Blessed Beatrice was a virgin consumed by love in imitating the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With the help of her prayers and example may we arrive at eternal glory by sharing on earth in the sufferings of Your Son.
The Carthusian calendar commemorates today the departed members of the Order. This is why we share today this extract from the chapter 8 of the book «A Time to Die» (Nicolas Diat, 2018). This chapter is called «The Deaths of the Recluses: The Grande Chartreuse Monastery».
The Carthusians are not afraid of leaving this world. The cemetery is in the middle of the large cloister. Every day, beginning in the novitiate, the fathers have walked beside the enclosure in order to get to the church.
When a Carthusian dies, the whole community gathers in the cell of the deceased for the lifting of the body. The body is led in procession to the church. In the choir, between the stalls, the deceased is no longer alone. Near the body laid on the floor, the monks pray for him.
The Carthusians themselves dig the graves that welcome the bodies of their own. The deceased is secured to a simple board lowered into the clay soil. The cemetery is not large; regularly, the monks have to empty the old graves by hand to make room. The skulls and bones are first set aside before being put back in the grave at the same time as the new body.
Traditionally, the latest novice to enter the monastery holds the processional cross, placed at the foot of the grave. It is he who most clearly sees the body of his elder and the hood lowered over the face.
According to the directives of Guigues, fifth prior of the Grande Chartreuse and legislator of the order, who wrote the “Statutes of the Carthusians” at the beginning of the twelfth century, the head of the deceased is turned toward the conventual church. The young monk watches the four Carthusians designated by the prior to throw in the shovelfuls of dirt, sometimes pebbles, to close the grave. He hears the muffled sound of clumps of earth that fall on the body. The verb “to bury” takes on its full meaning. The community waits until the grave is filled.
Since the founding of the order, funeral days have been considered moments of celebration. The Carthusians eat, as an exception, in the refectory; in ordinary times, they come here on Sundays and for solemnities. If the funerals fall on a fast day, it will not be observed. In the evening, they will also have a full meal in their cell.
After the burial, the community meets in the Chapter room. The prior gives a sermon and recalls the life of the deceased. In general, during the recreation that follows the funeral, the Carthusians speak of the brother who just died.
They can come into the chapel of the dead to reflect near the bones of the first Carthusians from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A few paces from the cells, the companions of Bruno sleep in this sad and somber oratory. Their ancient skulls rest under the high altar. On hiking days, the Carthusians come to this place to pray before leaving to climb the mountain trails.
In the cemetery, there are no names on the graves. On one side, thin, black wooden crosses indicate the graves of the fathers and lay brothers. On the other side, stone crosses are reserved for the last earthly dwelling of the priors. The Carthusians choose to disappear from the eyes of the world and then from their own brothers. Often, they are incapable of finding the precise grave of a monk in the cemetery. The hermits die without leaving a trace. Forgetfulness immediately follows death.
In the nineteenth century, the monks made an astonishing discovery. While digging a grave, next to the oldest ones, they came upon a perfectly preserved corpse. Its preservation, after decades in the ground, was a miracle. The monks ran to the Reverend Father. His response was final: “Close the grave, dig next to it, and don’t tell anyone about it.” Similarly, in the middle of the seventeenth century, in the cemetery of the old Carthusian monastery in Paris, at the site of the current Luxembourg garden, miracles were multiplying on the grave of a lay brother who had died in the odor of sanctity. Dom Innocent says the prior came to the place to address the deceased: “In the name of holy obedience, I forbid you to perform miracles.” The extraordinary phenomena ceased immediately.
Painting: La observancia cartujana más allá de la muerte (by Vicente Carducho)
Readings for matins: Extract of the letter by Bernard of Portes (Carthusian monk) to Rainold the Recluse
Remember to apply yourself to prayer with the greatest care. No preoccupation, no trouble with your health must turn you away from it. Pray not only for your own salvation, but for that of all Christians, living, to be born or deceased, for those on whose benefactions you depend, and for us too. Trusting in the help of the Holy Spirit who teaches his saints to pray with unutterable groans, you must enter the room of your heart, as our Lord says, and close the door against vain and impure thoughts by which the adversary tries to interrupt you, and pray to your Father in secret. At all times, keep the custody of your heart as much as you are able with God’s help; but at such moments most of all.
A sincere love and fervent faith in the cross of Christ wipes out all the intrigues of the enemy. And prayer with tears overcomes and chases any kind of temptation. Such are the spiritual weapons and the combats you engage in before the King whose soldier you have become. You should know that it is in order to be free for these things that you practise bodily enclosure and separation from exterior concerns. Because you bear the name of recluse, you will be considered great by men; but before God, you cannot be great unless you do these things with all care and vigilance. For men see only the outside; the Most High, however, will judge of what is interior. Whenever you see that you are not up to doing these things, accuse yourself humbly before God of your lack of piety and your imperfection; and beg very devoutly for the help of the grace of him who says: Without me, you can do nothing.
Scripture will teach you very clearly that humility is the guardian of all the virtues and that, without it, every virtue is empty and weak, or rather is not a virtue at all. When you fast, pray or chant the office, there will be no lack of invisible enemies that applaud you and say: “Well done, well done, who is there like you? Who is so pleasing to God? Ah, if men only knew your sanctity!’ Reply to them immediately in your heart with the words of the prophet: Let them be confounded with shame, those who say to me ‘well done’! And add: I am a beggar and destitute. In fact, however much you advance in virtue, you will always remain a destitute and a beggar. And you cannot obtain definitive victory over the invisible foe until you attain to him to whom you say: You will fill me with joy in your presence, and I will be satisfied when your glory appears.
If anyone praises you before you, don’t believe the words of a stranger more than your own conscience. Remember Scripture which says: Those who praise you mislead you. So as not to get puffed up at your own progress, have in mind what the apostle says: What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? To flee the desire for the favour of men, listen to the Lord: Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Again he says about such people: Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward. However, don’t think that it is an evil thing to be praised by men when this is not done out of flattery. Scripture, on the contrary says: Woe to the man because of whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed. What is bad is to be desirous of praise or to love it.
Many nuns have sanctified themselves silently in their charterhouses, but three exceptional women have left a name in the spiritual and hagiographic history of the Carthusian Order: Saint Roseline, Blessed Beatrix and Margaret of Oingt. Pope Benedict gave a catechesis on the latter exactly twelve years ago during a Wednesday general audience. Although Margaret is not recognized as a saint (at least by the Carthusian calendar), it is worth noting that the pope called her «a holy woman». We share below the full text of this catechesis.
With Margaret of Oingt, of whom I would like to speak to you today, we are introduced to Carthusian spirituality which draws its inspiration from the evangelical synthesis lived and proposed by St Bruno. We do not know the date of her birth, although some place it around 1240. Margaret came from a powerful family of the old nobility of Lyons, the Oingt. We know that her mother was also called Margaret, that she had two brothers — Giscard and Louis — and three sisters: Catherine, Elizabeth and Agnes. The latter followed her to the Carthusian monastery, succeeding her as Prioress.
We have no information on her childhood, but from her writings it seems that she spent it peacefully in an affectionate family environment. In fact, to express God’s boundless love, she valued images linked to the family, with particular reference to the figure of the father and of the mother. In one of her meditations she prays thus: “Most gentle Lord, when I think of the special graces that you have given me through your solicitude: first of all, how you took care of me since my childhood and how you removed me from the danger of this world and called me to dedicate myself to your holy service, and how you provided everything that was necessary for me: food, drink, dress and footwear (and you did so) in such a way that I had no occasion to think of these things but of your great mercy” (Margaret of Oingt, Scritti Spirituali, Meditazione V, 100, Cinisello Balsamo, 1997, p. 74).
Again from her meditations we know that she entered the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins in response to the Lord’s call, leaving everything behind and accepting the strict Carthusian Rule in order to belong totally to the Lord, to be with him always. She wrote: “Gentle Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of you; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more one possesses the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but you know, gentle Lord, that if I possessed a gentle thousand worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for love of you; and even if you gave me everything that you possess in Heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had you, because you are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of you” (ibid., Meditazione II, 32, p. 59).
We also have little data on her life in the Carthusian monastery. We know that in 1288 she became its fourth Prioress, a post she held until her death, 11 February 1310. From her writings, however, we do not deduce particular stages in her spiritual itinerary. She conceived the entirety of life as a journey of purification up to full configuration with Christ. He is the book that is written, which is inscribed daily in her own heart and life, in particular his saving Passion. In the work “Speculum”, referring to herself in the third person Margaret stresses that by the Lord’s grace “she had engraved in her heart the holy life that Jesus Christ God led on earth, his good example and his good doctrine. She had placed the gentle Jesus Christ so well in her heart that it even seemed to her that he was present and that he had a closed book in his hand, to instruct her” (ibid., I, 2-3, p. 81). “In this book she found written the life that Jesus Christ led on earth, from his birth to his ascension into Heaven” (ibid., I, 12, p. 83). Every day, beginning in the morning, Margaret dedicated herself to the study of this book. And, when she had looked at it well, she began to read the book of her own conscience, which showed the falsehoods and lies of her own life (cf. ibid., I, 6-7, p. 82); she wrote about herself to help others and to fix more deeply in her heart the grace of the presence of God, so as to make every day of her life marked by comparison with the words and actions of Jesus, with the Book of his life. And she did this so that Christ’s life would be imprinted in her soul in a permanent and profound way, until she was able to see the Book internally, that is, until contemplating the mystery of God Trinity (cf. ibid., II, 14-22; III, 23-40, pp. 84-90).
Through her writings, Margaret gives us some traces of her spirituality, enabling us to understand some features of her personality and of her gifts of governance. She was a very learned woman; she usually wrote in Latin, the language of the erudite, but she also wrote in Provençal, and this too is a rarity: thus her writings are the first of those known to be written in that language. She lived a life rich in mystical experiences described with simplicity, allowing one to intuit the ineffable mystery of God, stressing the limits of the mind to apprehend it and the inadequacy of human language to express it. Margaret had a linear personality, simple, open, of gentle affectivity, great balance and acute discernment, able to enter into the depths of the human spirit, discerning its limits, its ambiguities, but also its aspirations, the soul’s élan toward God. She showed an outstanding aptitude for governance, combining her profound mystical spiritual life with service to her sisters and to the community. Significant in this connection is a passage of a letter to her father. She wrote: “My dear father, I wish to inform you that I am very busy because of the needs of our house, so that I am unable to apply my mind to good thoughts; in fact, I have so much to do that I do not know which way to turn. We did not harvest the wheat in the seventh month of the year and our vineyards were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, our church is in such a sorry state that we are obliged to reconstruct it in part” (ibid., Lettere, III, 14, p. 127).
A Carthusian nun thus describes the figure of Margaret: “Revealed through her work is a fascinating personality, of lively intelligence, oriented to speculation and at the same time favoured by mystical graces: in a word, a holy and wise woman who is able to express with a certain humour an affectivity altogether spiritual” (Una Monaca Certosina; Certosine, in the Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, Rome, 1975, col. 777). In the dynamism of mystical life, Margaret valued the experience of natural affections, purified by grace, as a privileged means to understand more profoundly and to second divine action with greater alacrity and ardour. The reason lies in the fact that the human person is created in the image of God and is therefore called to build with God a wonderful history of love, allowing himself to be totally involved in his initiative.
The God-Trinity, the God-love who reveals himself in Christ fascinated her, and Margaret lived a relationship of profound love for the Lord and, in contrast, sees human ingratitude to the point of betrayal, even to the paradox of the Cross. She says that the Cross of Christ is similar to the bench of travail. Jesus’ pain is compared with that of a mother. She wrote: «The mother who carried me in her womb suffered greatly in giving birth to me, for a day or a night, but you, most gentle Lord, were tormented for me not only for one night or one day, but for more than 30 years!… How bitterly you suffered because of me throughout your life! And when the moment of delivery arrived, your work was so painful that your holy sweat became as drops of blood which ran down your whole body to the ground» (ibid., Meditazione I, 33, p. 59). In evoking the accounts of Jesus’ Passion, Margaret contemplated these sorrows with profound compassion. She said: “You were placed on the hard bed of the Cross, so that you could not move or turn or shake your limbs as a man usually does when suffering great pain, because you were completely stretched and pierced with the nails… and… all your muscles and veins were lacerated…. But all these pains… were still not sufficient for you, so much so that you desired that your side be pierced so cruelly by the lance that your defenceless body should be totally ploughed and torn and your precious blood spurted with such violence that it formed a long path, almost as if it were a current”. Referring to Mary, she said: “It was no wonder that the sword that lacerated your body also penetrated the heart of your glorious Mother who so wanted to support you… because your love was loftier than any other love” (ibid., Meditazione II, 36-39.42, p. 60f).
Dear friends, Margaret of Oingt invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and that of his mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence. From contemplation of Christ’s love for us are born the strength and joy to respond with the same love, placing our life at the service of God and of others. With Margaret we also say: “Gentle Lord, all that you did, for love of me and of the whole human race, leads me to love you, but the remembrance of your most holy Passion gives unequalled vigour to my power of affection to love you. That is why it seems to me that… I have found what I so much desired: not to love anything other than you or in you or for love of you” (ibid., Meditazione II, 46, p. 62).
At first glance this figure of a Medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life we see that it also affects us and that it would also become the essential aspect of our own existence.
We have heard that Margaret considered the Lord as a book, she fixed her gaze on the Lord, she considered him a mirror in which her own conscience also appeared. And from this mirror light entered her soul. She let into their own being the word, the life of Christ and thus she was transformed; her conscience was enlightened, she found criteria and light and was cleansed. It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is also rubbish in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, his strength and his love, cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path. Therefore let us follow holy Margaret in this gaze fixed on Jesus. Let us read the book of his life, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened and cleansed, to learn the true life. Thank you.
When he was the master of novices, Dom Dysmas once took a postulant to the six A.M. bus. During the night, the two men went down to the little main road, near La Correrie.
In the winter, from the Grande Chartreuse onward, it was necessary to make your way through thick snow. Often, gusts of wind slowed the walk.
Below, the bus stop was not marked. An edge of the road, nothing more. Dom Dysmas and the postulant waited patiently. Headlights in the distance. The bus? No, just a car. The time had not come yet. When it finally appeared, Dom Dysmas immediately recognized its illuminated strip. They had just enough time to give each other a hug, hail the driver, load the suitcase. Farewell. One minute later, the bus disappeared into the darkness of the forest, out of sight, and Dom Dysmas remained alone on the side of the road.
For the monks, death is not so different.
In telling me this story, Dom Dysmas spoke softly, with eyes full of kindness: “It’s an old friend who drives the bus; we wave to her as she passes, indicating that, the next time, perhaps it is you whom she will take for the beautiful trip. Or someone else, who knows? But we must leave that to God.”
Two days ago we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Bruno, Father of the Carthusian Order. Today we celebrate St. Artold, a Carthusian monk who was born in the same year of St. Bruno’s death (1101) and died on October 6, 1206 (same date as St. Bruno).
Artold entered the Charterhouse of Portes (France) in 1120. In 1132 he founded the Charterhouse of Arvières -at the request of the bishop of Geneva- and became its first prior. In 1184 he was elected bishop of Belley (France), a position he accepted only out of obedience. He resigned in 1190, aged 89. After resigning he returned to the Charterhouse of Arvières, where he lived as a Carthusian until his death.
One of the most relevant anecdotes of his life is his meeting with St. Hugh, a Carthusian monk who was elected bishop of Lincoln (England). He was visiting France at the time. Herbert Thurston (SJ), biographer of St. Hugo, relates this meeting as follows:
Leaving Belley, which had been governed by several Carthusian Bishops during the past hundred years, St. Hugh next went to visit one who, after St. Anthelmus, might perhaps he counted the most illustrious of them all. This was St. Artold, who had resigned his bishopric, and had retired to the Carthusian monastery of Arvières.
He was of noble birth, and had in early years fled from worldly honours to lead a life of solitude in the cloister. After being professed at Portes, he became Prior of Arvières, where for many years he gave an example of the highest perfection, and used the influence he had acquired to intervene in the disputes resulting from the schism of Octavian. Pope Alexander III listened to him with a deference which showed the high opinion he had conceived of the humble Carthusian Prior.
In 1184, he was elected Bishop of Belley. In vain did he take to flight to escape from this dignity; a miraculous light betrayed his hiding-place, and obliged him to yield to the wishes of the electors. In his episcopal palace, he continued to lead the life of a Carthusian, not, however, neglecting any of his pastoral duties. His charity to the poor and afflicted; his great success in converting sinners; his love of peace, which helped to put an end to many a bitter quarrel, and his unwearying activity in good works, gained for him the love and veneration of all. But in 1190, he obtained permission from Clement III to return to his beloved solitude, and end his days as a simple monk.
He was nearly a hundred years old when he heard of St. Hugh’s arrival at Belley. He had long desired to see the holy Bishop of Lincoln, and at once sent messengers to beg for a visit from him. St. Hugh could not turn a deaf ear to his request. He quitted the high-road to climb the steep rocks which led to the Carthusian monastery of Arvières, a wild retreat overhanging the deep gorges of the Grand-Colombier.
It was on the feast of St. James and of St. Christopher (July 25th) that the two Carthusian Bishops met. Although they were not of the same age, they both longed ardently for Heaven, and were both stricken by that incurable home-sickness which made St. Paul cry out: «have a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.» All their conversation turned upon this subject, of which the hearts of both were full. The other monks wished to catch the echo of these heavenly discourses, and a recreation was accorded at which the two holy men took part.
In the familiar freedom of conversation, St. Artold made a request which surprised his visitor. He asked St. Hugh to acquaint the religious with the terms of the Peace of Andely, which had been signed in his presence by the Kings of England and France. As this was a political event of the deepest import for the tranquillity of the whole country, St. Artold doubtless thought that there was sufficient reason for departing from the ordinary rules of the cloister. But St. Hugh deemed otherwise. He replied in a tone of gentle and respectful pleasantry: «Oh, my venerable lord and father, it is right enough for bishops to hear and retail news, but surely not for monks. It is not fitting that news should penetrate the enclosure of our cells. You would not have me leave the haunts of men in order to carry a budget of news into the desert.» And so saying, he turned the conversation again to spiritual matters. St. Artold was greatly edified by this conduct, and the whole community united in thanking him for his visit and his words of wisdom. They also expressed their gratitude for the alms he had previously obtained for them from King Henry II.
And then the two holy old men took leave of each other, to meet again only in the happier country of the blessed, towards which all their desires were turned. The younger of the two was the first to go home. St. Artold lived until 1206. He was one hundred and five years old at the time of his death.
Source: The Life of Saint Hugh of Lincoln – Hebert Thurston (SJ) London: Burns and Oates, Limited (1898) – pages 488 to 490
Let us pray:
All-powerful God, with the help of Saint Artold’s prayers may we so distinguish ourselves in this life’s laborious struggle that we may obtain eternal rest.We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
From a letter by our Father Saint Bruno to Radulphus
Transl. Thomas Merton
To my esteemed friend Radulphus, dean of the cathedral Chapter at Rheims, I, Bruno, send my greetings, as all my heartfelt affection toward you bids me.
I assure you, first of all, that my health is good, thinking that the news will not be unwelcome to you. I wish that I could say the same for my soul. The external situation is as satisfactory as could be desired, but I stand as a beggar before the mercy of God, praying that he will heal all the infirmities of my soul and fulfil all my desires with his bounty.
I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation. There are some brethren with me, some of whom are very well educated and they are keeping assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to him at once when he knocks. I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields. One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit- bearing trees.
Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life. It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut.
In any case, what benefits and divine exultation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know.
For here men of strong will can enter into themselves and remain there as much as they like, diligently cultivating the seeds of virtue and eating the fruits of paradise with joy. Here they can acquire the eye that wounds the Bridegroom with love, by the limpidity of its gaze, and whose purity allows them to see God himself. Here they can observe a busy leisure and rest in quiet activity. Here also God crowns his athletes for their stern struggle with the hoped-for reward: a peace unknown to the world and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So, what do you think ought to be done, dear friend? What else, but to trust in the exhortation of God himself and to believe in the truth which cannot deceive? For he calls out to everyone, saying: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Is it not, after all, a most ridiculous and fruitless labour to be swollen with lust, continually to be tortured with anxiety and worry, fear and sorrow, for the objects of your passion? Is there any heavier burden than to have one’s spirit thus cast down into the abyss from the sublime peak of its natural dignity – the veritable quintessence of right order gone awry? Flee, my brother, from these unending miseries and disturbances. Leave the raging storms of this world for the secure and quiet harbour of the port. For you know very well what wisdom in person has to say to us: Whoever does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple. Who cannot perceive what a beautiful thing it is, how beneficial and how delightful besides, to remain in the school of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn that divine philosophy which alone shows the way to true happiness?
You remember, after all, the time you and I and Fulk One-Eye, were together in the little garden adjoining Adam’s house, where I was staying at the time. We had been discussing for some while, as I recall, the false attractions and ephemeral riches of this present life and comparing them with the joys of eternal glory. As a result, we were inflamed with divine love and we promised, determined and vowed to abandon the fleeting shadows of this world at the earliest opportunity, and lay hold of the eternal by taking the monastic habit.
You must also be careful not to be allured away from the exigencies of divine love. Divine love proves itself the more useful, precisely to the extent that it is more in accord with right reason. For what could be beneficial and right, so fitting and connatural to human nature as to love the good? Yet what other good can compare with God? Indeed, what other good is there besides God? Whence it comes that the soul that has attained some degree of holiness and has experienced in some small measure the incomparable loveliness, beauty and splendour of this good, is set on fire with love and cries out: My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when shall I enter and see the face of God?
Letter written by our venerable Father Bruno in the hermitage of the Tower in Calabria, and he sent to his Carthusian sons
Transl. Thomas Merton; the Divine Office, vol. III, p. 318-319
To my brothers, whom I love in Christ above everything else, greetings from your brother Bruno.
Knowing from the frequent and welcome accounts of our blessed brother Landuino the unremitting rigour of your well-considered and truly praiseworthy way of life, and hearing of your holy love and unceasing zeal for what is perfect and good, my spirit rejoices in the Lord. Truly I rejoice and am led to praise and thank the Lord, and yet I sigh bitterly. I rejoice indeed, as is right, for the growth of the fruits of your virtues, but I lament and am ashamed that I lie inert and torpid in the filth of my sins.
Rejoice then, my dear brothers, for your blessed lot and for God’s abundant gift of grace to you. Rejoice that you have escaped the manifold perils and shipwrecks of this storm-tossed world. Rejoice that you have reached a safe and tranquil anchorage in that inner harbour which many desire to reach and many make efforts to reach yet never attain. Many too, after reaching the goal, have been excluded since it was not given them from above.
Therefore, my brothers, be certain and convinced that if anyone experiences this desirable good and then loses it, no matter how, he will never cease to regret it if he retains any regard or care for his soul’s salvation.
As for you, my beloved lay brothers: I say: My soul magnifies the Lord, for I see the greatness of his mercy to you according to the report of your loving prior and father, who boasts much about you and rejoices. We too rejoice since, though you are unlettered men, yet the mighty God writes on your hearts with his finger not only his love but a knowledge of his holy law. You show by your
actions what you love and what you know. For you practise with all care and zeal true obedience, which is the fulfilling of God’s commands, and the key and seal of the whole spiritual life; it is ever accompanied by great humility and outstanding patience, together with a pure love for the Lord and true charity. It is clear that you read wisely the sweet and life-giving fruit of divine scripture.
So, my brothers, abide in that which you have attained and avoid like the plague that baneful crowd of would-be monks, who in reality are as empty as can be, peddling their writings and speaking in hushed tones about things their neither cherish nor understand, but rather contradict by their words and actions. They are lazy and wander from place to place, slandering all those who are conscientious and dedicated, and imagining themselves worthy of praise if they blacken the name of those who really are. To them anything resembling discipline or obedience is loathsome.
As for our brother Landuino, I had intended to keep him here on account of his rather serious and recurrent illnesses; but he would have none of it, claiming that there could be nothing worthwhile for him, no health or joy nor zest for life, apart from you. With repeated sighs and a veritable gushing fountain of tears for you, he laid before me how much you mean to him, and the unadulterated affection he bears for you in the Lord. As a result, I have not wanted to force the issue, lest I cause grief either to him or to you, who are so dear to me for your maturity and excellence of spirit.
Wherefore, my brothers, I am very serious in my request, at once humble and insistent, that you manifest by your deeds the love you bear in your heart for your prior and beloved father, by kindly and attentively providing him with everything he needs for the various requirements of his health. He may be unwilling to go along with what your loving solicitude may dictate, preferring to jeopardise his life and health rather than be found lacking in some point of external observance. After all, this is normally inadmissible and he might blush to hold the first rank among you, and yet trail in these matters, fearing that you might become negligent or lukewarm on his account. Yet, I hardly think there is any danger of that; so, I hereby grant you the necessary authority to take my place in this particular, and respectfully compel him to accept whatever you accord him for his health.
As for me, brothers, I would have you know that the only desire I have, after God, is to come and see you. As soon as I can, God willing, I will do just that. Farewell.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
Jesus said to his disciples: Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning. And what follows.
From the Letter of Guigo on the solitary life
To the Reverend X, from Guigo, least among the servants of the cross who dwell in the Chartreuse. May we live and die for Christ.
One man will think another happy. I esteem him happy above all who does not strive to be lifted up with great honours in a palace, but who chooses to live humbly and poorly in the wilderness, who with thoughtful application loves to meditate in peace, who longs to sit alone in silence.
For to shine with honours, to be lifted up with dignities is in my judgement a way of little peace, subject to perils, burdened with cares, treacherous to many, and to none secure. It is happy in the beginning, perplexed in its development, wretched in its end. This way is flattering to the unworthy, disgraceful to the good, and generally deceptive to both. While it makes many wretched, it satisfies none, and makes no one happy.
But the poor and solitary life, austere in its beginning, easy in its progress, becomes, in its end, heavenly. It is constant in adversity, confident in hours of doubt, modest in those of good fortune. This way of life is characterized by sober fare, simple garments, reserved speech, and chaste manners. It has the highest ambition, because it is without ambition. Often wounded with sorrow at the thought of past sins, it avoids them in the present, and is ever watchful for the future. Resting on the hope of mercy, without trust in its own merit, it thirsts after heaven, is sick of earth, earnestly strives for right conduct, which it retains in constancy and holds firmly forever. It fasts with determined constancy in love of the cross, yet consents to eat for the body s need. In both it observes the greatest moderation, for when it dines it restrains greed and when it fasts it avoids vanity.
The solitary life is devoted to reading, but prefers religious books of recognised value where it is more intent upon the inner marrow of meaning than on the froth of words.
But you may praise or wonder more at this: that such a life perseveres in repose yet is never lazy. For it finds many things indeed to do, so that time is more often lacking to it than this or that occupation. It more often laments that its time has slipped away than that its business is tedious.
What else? A happy subject, to advise repose, but such an exhortation seeks out a mind that is its own master, concerned with its own good, disdaining to be caught up in the affairs of others, or of society. It so fights as a soldier of Christ in peace as to refuse double service as a soldier of God and a hireling of the world. Such a mind knows for sure it cannot here be glad with this world and then in the next reign with God.
Small matters are these renouncements, and their like, if you recall what drink he took at the gibbet, who calls you to kingship. Like it or not, you must follow the example of Christ in his poverty if you would have fellowship with him in his riches. If we suffer with him, says the Apostle, we shall also reign with him; if we die with him, we shall also live with him.
The Mediator himself replied to the two disciples who asked him if one of them might sit at his right hand and the other at his left: Can you drink the chalice which I am about to drink? Here he made it clear that it is by cups ofearthly bitterness that we come to the banquet of the patriarchs and to the nectar of heavenly celebrations.
Now, that you may fully understand the drift of all my argument, I appeal to your wise judgement in few words with what is at once the counsel and desire of my soul. Undertake our observance as a man of great and noble heart, for the sake of your eternal salvation. Become a recruit of Christ and stand guard in the camp of the heavenly army, watchful with your sword on your thigh against the terrors of the night.
Source: Readings for matins (Carthusian rite) – Year A: readings 1 to 8 – Year B: readings 9 to 12
On the occasion of the end of the month of the Bible (and St. Jerome’s memorial) we would like to share with you a comparative chart of the Four Gospels. We believe that it will be very useful for the moments of Lectio Divina, that way of meditating with the Scriptures that is so characteristic of the Carthusian life.
Stephen was born in Lyons (France) into the noble family of Châtillon in the mid-12th century. We know little about his early life, but at twenty-five he came to try the Carthusian life at the Charterhouse of Portes(France). He was favorably impressed and asked to be admitted. The monks accepted him gladly.
He soon stood out for his great fervor and self-denial. He radiated piety. When saying Mass, he had the gift of tears. The sight of a crucifix was sufficient to carry him into ecstasy. His spirituality can be summarized as follows: ardent devotion to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the holy Eucharist, and to our Lady, and also zeal for the liturgy. All of his piety was manifested in a vibrant atmosphere of love of God and of neighbor. So it was not astonishing that when the Prior of Portes died, the monks elected Stephen as his successor (in the year 1196). As Prior he fulfilled the expectations of the community, putting all his gifts into service of a prudent leadership, while maintaining his union with God. His reputation soon spread beyond the Charterhouse.
In 1202 the little French diocese of Die, not very far from Portes, needed a new Bishop. The officials of that diocese were unanimous in their choice of Stephen. At first he refused energetically, but when they drew his attention to the example of Hugh, the Carthusian Bishop of Lincoln in England, who had died two years earlier, he finally accepted.
As Bishop he kept up monastic prayer and austerities, while at the same time, by preaching and good example, he worked tirelessly and fruitfully for the salvation of souls. Just like other Carthusians who became Bishops, Stephen used to take a retreat from time to time in his monastery, refreshing mind and body in solitude. He always did so without showing in any way the high dignity with which he was invested.
He was well aware of the fact that the responsibilities of a Bishop are not without risks. That is why, although still only in his fifties, he said one day to a dying Carthusian brother: “Brother, this infirmity will take you to the Lord. When you are with Him, please pray for me and ask Him for the grace not to allow me to continue in my episcopal ministry.” Remarkably Stephen died twelve days after the brother died, on September 7, 1208. He was around 55 years old, and had been a Bishop for six years.
Prayer: All-powerful God, it is not our frail body but our ardent spirit which can reach Your eternal glory. Make us, like Saint Stephen, strive always for those heavenly realms. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord. Amen.
Even when the Carthusian Order does not promote the beatification or canonization of any of its members, there are Carthusian blessed and saints. In most cases, these saints were bishops (such as Saint Anthelm) or martyrs (like the English Carthusian martyrs). In those cases, the dioceses they belonged to (and not the Carthusian Order) promoted their causes.
In 2017, the cause of canonization of Salvador Montes de Oca was opened by the diocese of Valencia (Venezuela). If he is canonized, he will become the first Carthusian saint who was both a bishop and a martyr.
He was born in Carora (State of Lara, Venezuela) on 21 October 1895. He was ordained a priest on 22 September 1922. In 1927 he was appointed as the second Bishop of Valencia by Pope Pius XI.
The political situation of the time triggered the struggle of Bishop Montes de Oca in favor of Human Rights and the Doctrine of the Church. This led to his expulsion from Venezuela in 1929. He returned to the country in 1931.
The Carthusian charism caught his attention and he decided to take the monastic habit in the Charterhouse of Farneta (Italy) on 4 January 1943. He took the name of Bernard.
In the summer of 1944 he was involved in the Nazi massacre carried out against the monastic community of Farneta, guilty of having given hospitality to several partisans and Jewish refugees. Bernardo and Father Prior were killed by a machine gun in the night between the 6 and 7 September 1944 at Monte Magno di Camariore, Lucca, Italy. Father Bernard was 49 years old. Ten other Carthusian monks would be killed in the following days.
Although buried at the time in unmarked ditches, their bodies were finally exhumed and identified. All of them, except for Dom Bernard were buried in the cemetery of the monastery. The mortal remains of Monsignor Salvador Montes de Oca were transferred to Venezuela. He is now buried in the Cathedral at Valencia.
Prayer to ask for a grace through the intercession of the servant of God Salvador Montes de Oca.
Father of infinite goodness: you have blessed the Church of Venezuela with the luminous life of your servant Monsignor Salvador Montes de Oca, second bishop of Valencia and monk of the Charterhouse of Farneta.
He sowed in your people a fervent Eucharistic spirit, love for the ministerial priesthood and a tender Marian devotion. Besides, he defended in an exemplary way the values of the family, freedom and human rights.
Driven by love for you and a yearning for perfection, he entered the Contemplative life at the Charterhouse. Grant us to live his spiritual legacy.
We beseech you to glorify him with the recognition of his virtues and his beatification. And if it is for our good, we ask you for the grace to…
(Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory)
La strage di Farneta. Storia sconosciuta dei dodici Certosini fucilati dai tedeschi nel 1944 (Luigi Accattoli 2013)
Douze Chartreux de Farneta fusillés par les nazis en 1944 (by a Carthusian Monk 1996)
The Silent Summer of 1944. Carthusian monks in Italy opened their doors, saving many from death camps; their reward: martyrdom (Giuseppina Sciascia – L’Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition – February 2, 2005, p. 4-5)
To contact the Foundation Monsignor Montes de Oca:
Dear brothers, just as the death of Christ gave birth to a countless multitude of Christian believers, so too the precious death of his martyrs and saints gave great increase to the number of the faithful, through the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Persecution by tyrants and the killing of the innocents were never able to wipe out Christianity, but on the contrary caused it always to grow very much. We have an example of this in blessed John, the Baptiser of our Lord, whose holy martyrdom we celebrate today. The impious King Herod killed him on account of his piety and wanted to wipe out his memory altogether. Not only did his memory not perish, but thousands of men, enkindled by his example, willingly went to their death for the sake of righteousness and truth. The more the tyrant tried to shame him, the more he made him illustrious. Today, which real Christian does not venerate John the Baptist? Everywhere Catholics celebrate his memory and all generations proclaim him blessed. The fragrance of his virtues fills the whole Church.
John did not live for himself alone; nor did he die for himself. How many people laden with sins, do we think, were drawn to penance by his harsh and austere life? How many were stirred up to endure adversities by his undeserved death? Why are we inspired today to piety and thanksgiving to God, if not because we recall John the Baptist s death for justice sake, that is, for love of Christ? He did not love his own soul, that is, its sensitive part which is addicted to pleasure and shuns hardships, but he plainly hated it, refusing to assent to its carnal desires. By hating it in this way, or rather by loving it in truth and piety, he kept it for eternal life. Moreover, he did not keep it only for himself, but, by his example he inflamed many to live rightly.
What shall we say of John the Baptist? As the holiest of all, his whole being undoubtedly yearned exceedingly to see the face of God. Thus it is that some martyrs have been ready to die for God and righteousness, to the point of offering the supreme sacrifice. All the saints burn in that way with longing for God, and until it is satisfied, they console themselves in the meantime by speaking to him in continual prayer, listening to him speak in holy Scripture, reminding themselves of his gifts and benefits, and above all by going often to Holy Communion. For there the loftiest and most excellent token of divine love is given to us; and those who love God have really him present there, though all do not experience and enjoy him as he is. We can gather from this that one in whom the desires of the world are extinguished but who burns with those of heaven, who hopes to die in order to be with Christ, who finds no greater consolation than in the sacrament of the altar, such a one may be confident that the love of God is in him.
It belongs peculiarly to the love of God that one who is aflame with it, gives himself and all that he has to God, for the sake of his honour and will, so much that one would prefer to die his eternal salvation depends on it rather than commit one mortal sin, which grievously offends God. Perfect love however does not only avoid mortal sin, but strives to fulfil God s good pleasure. So John the Baptist willingly despised the life of the body for love of Christ, preferring to disobey the tyrant rather than God. His example, dearest brothers, teaches us that nothing should be preferred to the will of God. To please men is of little value, often it is very harmful. But to have offended God cannot but be immensely harmful. For that reason, with all the friends of God, let us die to our vices and disorders; let us trample on vicious self-love and strive to increase the fervour of our love for Christ, which, in the measure of its ardour, will make us happier in heaven and closer to him. May he grant us this, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
From a letter of Saint Bernard to Guigo, the Prior, and to the other monks of the Grande Chartreuse
I received the letters of your Holiness with a delight equalled only by my longing eagerness for them. I have read them and mused upon them and they have fired my heart like so many sparks from the fire which the Lord came to spread over the earth. How great must have been the fire burning in your meditations to have sent out such sparks as these! Your burning and kindling greeting seemed to me, I confess, to have come, not from man, but from him who sent word to Jacob. It was no ordinary greeting such as one gives in passing on the road, or from habit; I could feel it came from the heart, a welcome and unexpected benison. May the Lord bless you for troubling to meet me, your child, with such a blessing in your letter to me that you have given me the courage to write back to you, after I had for so long wanted to, but not dared. For I was loath to harass your holy peace in the Lord, to disturb even for one moment your unbroken silence from the world, by my uncalled-for scribbling.
I rejoice on my own account and on yours; I congratulate you on your charity, and myself on the profit my soul has derived from it. For that is true and sincere charity to be attributed entirely to a pure heart and unfeigned faith which leads us to love our neighbours’ good as well as our own. The man who loves his own good in preference to his neighbours’ good or who loves only his own good proves, by the very fact that his love is not disinterested, that he does not love the good with a chaste love. Such a one could not obey the Prophet when he says: Praise the Lord because he is good. He may praise the Lord because he is good to himself, but not because he is Goodness itself. And he should know that the same Prophet is casting a reproach at him for this when he says: He will praise you when you do well to him. There are those who praise the Lord because he is powerful, and these are slaves and fearful for themselves; there are those who praise him because he is good to them, and these are hirelings seeking themselves; and there are those who praise him because he is Goodness itself, and these are sons doing homage to their father.
Both those who fear for themselves and those who seek themselves are acting only for themselves; only the love of a son seeks not itself. On this account, I think that the words The Law of God is unspotted refer to charity, because it alone can turn the heart from love of self and the world, and direct it to God alone. Neither fear nor love of self can turn the soul to God; they may sometimes change the aspect or influence the actions of a man, but they will never change his heart. Even the slave sometimes does God’s work, but because he does not do it willingly he proves that his heart is still hard. And the hireling too will sometimes do God’s work, but because he only does it for reward, he is known to be attracted only by his greed. Where there is self-seeking, there too is self-esteem; where there is self-esteem, there too is private interest; and where private interest makes a corner for itself there rust and filth will collect. Let fear itself be the law of a slave, by it he is bound; let greed be for the hireling his law, by it he also is confined when by it he is led off and enticed away. Neither of these two laws is unspotted, neither can turn the soul to God; only charity can do this, because she alone can render a soul disinterested.
I would call his charity unspotted who never keeps anything of his own for himself. When a man keeps nothing of his own for himself everything he has is God’s, and what is God’s cannot be unclean. Therefore the unspotted law of God is charity, which seeks not what may benefit itself, but what may benefit many. Charity is called the law of the Lord, either because the Lord himself lives by it or else because none may have it except by his gift. Let it not seem absurd that I should have said that even God lives by law, for I have also said that the law is nothing else but charity. What else but charity preserves that supreme and unspeakable unity in the blessed Trinity? Charity is therefore a law, and it is the law of the Lord holding together, as it were, the Trinity and binding it in the bonds of peace. Yet let no one think that I speak of charity here as if it were a quality or something accidental to the Godhead, as if I were saying may it be far from me to say any such thing! that there was something in God which is not God; but I say that charity is the divine substance itself. And there is nothing new or strange about this, for Saint John himself has said, God is charity.
The Spirit bears witness to my spirit that while your law is also mine, I too am one of your sons; and as you are, so also may I be in this world. For it is certain that those who fulfil the words of the Apostle and owe no man anything except to love him are in this world even as God; not hirelings nor yet slaves but sons. Therefore neither are the sons of God free from law, unless anyone should think differently on account of the words. The law is not made for the just. But it should be understood that the law promulgated in fear by the spirit of slavery is one thing, and the law given graciously by the spirit of liberty is quite another. Sons are not bound by the former, but neither are they suffered to live without the latter.
Good and sweet is the law of charity, not only light to bear, but also an easement of the law of slaves and hirelings. For it does not destroy these laws, it brings them to perfection, according to our Lord’s words: I have not come to set aside the law, but to bring it to perfection. Tempering the one and controlling the other, it eases both. Charity will never be without fear, but a chaste fear; nor ever without self-interest, but an ordered self-interest. It brings the law of the slave to perfection by inspiring it with devotion; and also the law of the hireling, by controlling self-interest. When devotion is mixed with fear it does not nullify it, but amends it; it takes from it the anguish which it never lacks when it is servile, and renders it chaste and filial. The words Perfect charity casts out fear must be understood as meaning that it removes the anguish which, as I have said, is never lacking to fear so long as it is servile. It is a common mode of speech, putting the cause for the effect.
And the self-interest inherent in the law of the hireling is controlled by charity, so that it entirely rejects what is evil, prefers what is better to what is good, and what is good only for the sake of what is better. And, when this is fully effected in the soul by the grace of God, the body and all created good are only loved for the sake of the soul, and the soul only for the sake of God, and God for his own sake. Because we are flesh and blood born of the desire of the flesh, our desire or love must start in the flesh, and it will then, if properly directed, progress under grace by certain stages until it is fulfilled in the spirit for that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual, and we must first bear the image which is earthly and afterwards that which is heavenly. At first a man loves himself for his own sake. He is flesh and is able only to know himself. When he sees that he cannot subsist of himself, then he begins by faith to seek and love God as necessary to himself. And so in the second stage he loves God, not yet for God s sake, but for his own sake.
However when, on account of his own necessity, he begins to meditate, read, pray, and obey, he becomes accustomed little by little to know God and consequently to delight in him. When he has tasted and found how sweet is the Lord he passes to the third stage wherein he loves God for God’s sake and not for his own. And here he remains, for I doubt whether the fourth stage has ever been fully reached in this life by any man, the stage, that is, wherein a man loves himself only for God’s sake. Let those say who have experienced it; I confess that to me it seems impossible. It will come about, doubtless, when the good and faithful servant shall have been brought into the joy of his Lord and become inebriated with the fullness of the house of God. For he will then be wholly lost in God as one inebriated and henceforth cleave to him as if one in spirit with him, forgetful, in a wonderful manner, of himself and, as it were, completely out of himself.
Source: The Letters of St Bernard of Clairvaux, Bruno Scott James, Burns Oates, 1953. In: Lectionary for Matins – Sanctoral B – 20 August – Readings 1 to 8 (Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse 2021)
From the Meditations of Guigo II, Prior of the Grande Chartreuse
O Mary, house of ivory, royal palace stoutly built with cedar panels, with widest prospect; what riches are contained in you! Truly, you are that great ivory throne of Solomon, of workmanship the like of which was not found in any kingdom. You are adorned with fine gold of purest wisdom, and as wellfashioned in your unspotted virginity as Solomon’s throne. You have mounted the six steps of the active life, and upon the seventh, the quiet of contemplation, you enthrone the king of peace. Upon the steps on either side there stand twelve lion cubs, the prophets and apostles, the mighty fathers of both Testaments, supported by your merits, gazing up in wonderment, like little children, to the heights to which you have ascended. Who is she, they say, who goes before us like the rising dawn, lovely as the moon, glorious as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array?
The whole court of heaven gazes aloft and wonders at you, consummation of all the works of God’s hand. You who are filled with grace, what is this which you bear in your bosom? It is the Lord, and you say, I am his handmaiden. He who is mighty has made me great. Well may you wonder at me, for I am great,but it is he who made me great who is mighty. He is the Lord and I his handmaiden: he is dew and I the earth whence the wheat grows: he is the manna, I the vessel, out of which came the scarlet dye, made from the worm. I am a worm and no man. For man is like the grass, but this man was wheat. This wheat grew from the dew of heaven and from virgin soil. The earth and the dew are great, but he who made them is mighty. One grain of wheat was born of me, and of the abundance of that wheat it is said: But if it shall die, it will produce great fruit; and dying, it gave an abundance of wine, rising again andascending; and it poured out oil, which, the Apostle says, it pours out abundantly upon us. This is the abundance of wheat and wine and oil which isproduced from the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth.
O you, earth’s richness, filled with grace: as the flesh fit for sacrifice is separated from the carcass, so you are separated from the sinful mass of humanity, you who are filled with oil, filled and overflowing with every gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is with you: with you in the inner room of your heart, with you in the bridal chamber of your womb, remaining with you, persisting in you, never leaving you. The Lord is with you; but what does with you mean? It means that the Lord is one with you in the nature which is to be raised high above the angels. God dwells in his angels but not with them; God dwells in you and with you. God is seated above his angels, seated above thrones, seated above the cherubim and seraphim; he is seated and he reigns in all of these, butin all the kingdoms of the earth there is no work like you, his great ivory throne.
You are blessed among women. The fullness of grace which you possess overflows upon the earth and saturates it, in showers which make its fruits abound, and all generations will call you blessed. You are blessed among women. It is a poor thing to be blessed above men, for it is women who givebirth in anguish, men who eat their bread by the sweat of their brow. You give birth without anguish, you are fed without toiling, and still it is little enough that you are more blessed than the angels; for they are fed by God, but they do not feed him. But you, blessed one, feed him who feeds both you and the angels. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, in whom women and men and angels are blessed; and you are blessed above them all, because many of his daughtershave amassed riches, but you have excelled them all. For God has anointed with the oil of rejoicing the fruit of your womb before all your companions, and we allhave received a share of his fullness, but you have received more abundantly than us all.
Source: Cistercian Studies Series, vol. 48. In: Lectionary for Matins – Sanctoral C – 15 August – Readings 9 to 12 (Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse 2021)
On August 10, 1539, the German Carthusian monk and ascetical writer John Justus of Landsberg passed away. He was born in 1489. His family name was Gerecht, of which Justus is merely a Latin translation. The appellation, however, by which he is generally known is that of Lanspergius (latinization ‘of Landsberg’), from his birthplace. Although he is not a Carthusian saint, he is present in the Carthusian liturgy today. In fact, an extract from his book «Epistle of Jesus Christ to the faithful soul» is read at Matins. This is the text we share below.
If anyone reproaches or criticizes you, look mild and behave gently, keep your peace, and smile bashfully and modestly to show your charity which accepts everything in good part and takes all things well, without either thinking of revenge or remembering harm done. Be careful at such times not to speak more than two or three words, and do so very temperately. Be so humble that no one is afraid to reprove, displease or reproach you. When anyone checks or criticizes you, learn to keep silent, to bear it patiently, and then you will certainly find my grace.
You can never have my grace by any other means than by being quiet, and suffering patiently whatever I send to try you. My daughter and my spouse, you have my life as a perfect example of patience and meekness. It was not without reason that I said, Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. My life is a model of patience, humility and meekness. Did I complain in the middle of afflictions and torments? Did I murmur amidst the derisions and blasphemies, and the cruel menaces of my enemies? Did I curse any of my foes? To which of them did I speak sharply? Which of them did I answer? To which of them did I wish any harm? No, I had rather compassion on them, and prayed for them all.
Have patience, in silence and quietness; remain gentle without murmuring or complaining. Don’t fight for yourself, or answer back. Don’t defend or excuse yourself. Hold your peace and commit yourself and your cause to my protection. I shall fight for you.
Keep close to me in all quietness without any perturbation or commotion in your soul, being ready quite gladly to suffer any confusion for my sake rather than inwardly in your mind or outwardly in your appearance to murmur in the least way against me. As long as you believe that you have been wronged, as long as you think that you have suffered unjustly, or that you have not deserved the things you are suffering, you have not reached true patience, or a perfect knowledge of yourself.
I want you always to be ready with a joyful and devout heart to run and meet any pain or adversity which happens to you, and to offer yourself to me as willing to suffer hardship and bear misery. Think any day wasted on which you have not received some cross. If you knew the merit acquired by patience, you would honour and show gratitude to those who afflict you. Consider how I, as an innocent lamb, did carry a most meek and quiet mind, without any bitterness to those who spat on me, scourged me and crucified me. But I excused them and prayed for them.
Source: Gill’s Spiritual Classics, trans. J. Griffiths, 1990, p. 108-109; An Epistle of JC, Transl. Philip, Burns Oates, 1926, p. 125-128. In: Lectionary for Matins – Sanctoral C – 10 August: Saint Lawrence, martyr – Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse (2021)
The Martyrs of the Carthusian Order in England were victims of the persecutions under King Henry VIII. Henry banished Queen Catherine or Aragon from his court and married Anne Boleyn. Because of this, he was excommunicated. In 1534 however, Henry pushed through the Act of Supremacy, which made him Supreme Head of the Church of England. Those who remained loyal to the Pope were to be considered guilty of high treason. The Prior of the London Charterhouse, John Houghton, together with two other Carthusian Priors who happened to be in London at that time, Robert Lawrence of Beauvale and Augustine Webster of Axholme, went to see the king’s vicar, Thomas Cromwell, to ask to be excused from the unlawful oath of loyalty. In response, they were imprisoned in the Tower of London. They were tried, and the same royal official bullied the jury into declaring them guilty of high treason, for which the punishment was to be “hanged, drawn and quartered.” On May 4, 1535 they were martyred at Tyburn Tree.
Little more than a month later, three leading monks of the London house, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate, were bound upright in chains for 13 days before being taken to die at Tyburn Tree on 19 June. And on 4 May 1536 Dom John Rochester and Dom James Walworth were taken to the Charterhouse of St. Michael in Hull in Yorkshire. Eventually, they were made an “example” of on 11 May 1537, when, condemned for refusing to sign the Act of Supremacy, they were hanged in chains from the York city battlements until dead.
On 18 May 1537 the remaining monks in the London Charterhouse were required to sign the Act of Supremacy. Some signed it, thinking that in doing so they could save the monastery. But ten monks refused and were sent on 29 May to Newgate Prison. Brother William Horn, the blessed martyr we commemorate today, was part of this last group of English Carthusian martyrs. They were chained standing and with their hands tied behind them to posts in the prison. All but William died from starvation between June and September 1537. This brother was destined to suffer more than all the others. When his nine companions were “clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands,” he was still languishing in Newgate. He was afterwards transferred to the Tower, where the severity of his treatment must have been somewhat moderated, for three years later he was still alive. Eventually he won his martyr’s crown by being “hanged, drawn and quartered” at Tyburn Tree on 4 August 1540.
By that time there were no more Carthusian monks at the London Charterhouse. The monks who had signed the Act of Supremacy had already been expelled. And the monastery, like the other religious houses in the rest of the Kingdom, had already been dissolved.
Let us pray:
All-powerful, ever-living God, you gave Blessed William Horn the courage to witness to the Gospel of Christ even to the point of giving his life for it. By his prayers help us to endure all suffering for love of you and to seek you with all our hearts, for you alone are the source of life. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
On October 1, 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified the Rochefort martyrs: sixty-four priests who died in 1794-1795, during the French Revolution. They belonged to fourteen French dioceses and twelve religious Institutes. Two of them, Blessed Claude Beguignot and Lazarus Tiersot, were Carthusians. These priests, for refusing to take the revolutionary oaths opposed to the Church, were in the spring of 1794 forced to embark on two former slave ships anchored at the mouth of the Charente River, at Rochefort. The names of the ships were «les Deux-Associés» and «Washington». They were massed together in the most appalling conditions and, in addition, treated with brutality by the crew, forced to stand all day and virtually starved.
This morning, dear Brothers and Sisters, Our thoughts go out to sixty-four French priests who died with hundreds of others on the «pontoons of Rochefort.» As St. Paul recommended to Timothy, they too fought «the good fight of faith» (1 Tim. 6:12). And likewise they experienced a long ordeal for remaining faithful to their faith and to the Church. If they died, it was for wanting to confirm their close communion with Pope Pius VI to the end. In profound moral solitude they ardently wanted to retain a spirit of prayer, «amid the torments» (Lk. 16:23) of hunger and thirst, they had not a single word of hatred toward their executioners. Slowly they allowed themselves to be identified with the sacrifice of Christ that they celebrated by virtue of their ordination. Here they are, then, now offered to our gaze as a living sign of the power of Christ acting in human weakness. At the bottom of their misery, they retained a sense of forgiveness. The unity of faith and the unity of their homeland seemed to them as the most important things. Since then we can joyfully take up the words of Holy Scripture: the souls of these righteous men are in the hand of God. «They seemed to die; their departure from us was thought to be a ruin, but they are in peace» (Wis. 3:2-3).
After his Charterhouse of Bourg-Fontaine was suppressed by the Revolution, Dom Claude Beguignot (born in Langres in 1736) withdrew to Rouen. In April 1793 he was arrested and put on the prison ship ‘Deux-Associés’. During their ordeal Dom Claude was the one the sick turned to for help. A priest who survived witnessed as follows to the monk’s manifest holiness: “The very view of this man inspired the love of mortification. You never tired of hearing him speak of God. He did it so worthily and with such unction.” Dom Claude died July 16, 1794.
Dom Lazarus Tiersot (born in Semur-en-Auxois in 1739), professed and Vicarof the Charterhouse of Our Lady of Fontenay, withdrew to the town of Avallon at the suppression of his monastery. He was arrested in April 1793, and put on the prison ship ‘Washington’. “He impressed the other priests as a Saint”, says one who survived. He passed away August 10, 1794, having predicted his death.
Both martyrs were buried in Aix Island, nearthe «pontoons of Rochefort».
Other Carthusians, about forty, were also martyred during the Revolution. Among them Dom Pierre Brizard was drowned on the docks of Nantes; Dom André Jacquet, Dom Marcel Liottier, Dom Michel Poncet, Dom Étienne Ballet and Dom Anthelm Monier were guillotined in Lyons at the end of 1791. Also Pacôme Lassus, Carthusian monk of Montmerle, was guillotined in Pontarlier on April 25, 1794. And Mother Albertine de Briois, prioress of the charterhouse of Gosnay, died a martyr in Arras on June 27, 1794.
Father, strengthen our hearts, so that just as our brothers consummated their solitary life by bearing all their sufferings for the Church, so may we, dwelling hidden before Your face, be led to perfect love. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Blessed Boniface is usually included among the Carthusian Saints, although his ties to the Order are rather questionable. He belonged to the princely House of Savoy, and in point of fact his tomb is among the ‘royal tombs’ of that House at the abbey of Hautecombe in Savoy, France.
His parents were Thomas I of Savoy and Marguerite of Geneva. He is believed to have been for some time a Carthusian novice at the Grande Chartreuse. But not for long! Because of his reputation and capabilities he had to leave the peace of the novitiate to become Bishop of Belley (France) in 1234. He left the Mother house “in tears”.
In 1239, he also received the administration of the bishopric of Valence (France) on the death of his brother William. Finally, Queen Eleanor of England, wife of Henry III and Boniface’s close relative obtained that he be named Archbishop of Canterbury in 1241. He remained there for about twenty-five years. During a visit to his native Savoy, he died at the castle of Sainte-Hélène-sur-Isère on 14 July 1270.
In 1838 the family of the princely House obtained from Gregory XVI the recognition of his reputation for holiness, because of the miracles that took place after his death. In 1839, a new decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites established the Office and Mass of the Blessed, with its own prayer. Finally, in 1858 his commemoration was included in the Carthusian Calendar.
Prayer: Lord, You saw fit to make Boniface an example of pastoral zeal and love. With his help, may we in our solitude contribute towards the salvation of souls. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Carthusian saint Rosaline de Villeneuve because the last transfer of her relics took place on 6 July 1894. Rosaline belonged to the noble Southern French family of the ‘de Villeneuve’. She was born in 1262. She loved more than anything else to take care of the poor, distributing generously from the family provisions, which alarmed the servants of the castle. Once, after having filled her skirt with bread, Rosaline was on her way to the poor grouped together at the doors of the castle. She was suddenly stopped by her father who asked her what she was carrying. She answered: “These are the roses I just finished picking.” Extending her skirt she showed the said roses to the astonished eyes of her father. It is to recall this miracle that Rosaline is often represented in portraits with her skirt full of roses.
When she was sixteen years old she wanted to become a Carthusian nun. She knew their life from the Charterhouse of la Celle-Roubaud close by, where her aunt Jeanne de Villeneuve was Prioress. Since that House had no novitiate, it was at Saint-André-de-Ramières that she entered, and then she moved to the chief Charterhouse for women, Bertaud, not far from the city of Gap, in the French Alps. She made profession there in 1280.
Her aunt at Celle-Roubaud was getting on in age, so after a few years the Superior General of the Carthusian Order permitted Rosaline to go to that House to help her aunt. She was known for her inclination towards asceticism. For example, she reduced her sleep, and lived only on bread the days when she went to communion (at that time, daily communion is not yet a custom). Prayer was for her most important in Carthusian life. Each night she used to spend long hours in prayer, thus obtaining special graces for the Order, her family and town, and for the entire Church.
Owing to her purity of heart God granted her the gift of reading what is in other people’s heart. At the death of her aunt in 1300 the Superior General appointed Rosaline as Prioress. She held that office for twenty-nine years. It was during this time that her friend, the Bishop of Fréjus, became Pope as John XXII.
She died at the age of sixty-six with a great renown for holiness. Immediately there were miracles: blind received their sight and sick were cured. Five years after her death, in 1334, Pope John ordered to open her tomb. Her body was found entirely incorrupt and it is still so today. In 1602 it was transferred from the crypt to a newly built chapel. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX authorized her feast for the diocese of Fréjus, and in 1857 for the Carthusian Order. Today, the Carthusians celebrate her on July 6, and her feast is a solemnity for the nuns of the Order.
Lord God, for love of You Saint Rosaline trampled
underfoot the flattering allurements of the world, that
she might adhere only to You. Help us to follow
her example and, turning away from things of earth,
A few days ago we commemorated the anniversary of the foundation of the first Carthusian monastery, on June 24, 1084, in the Chartreuse Massif (France), on the initiative of St. Bruno and six companions. And today, June 29, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Saints Peter and Paul, martyred in Rome. Peter is remembered for being the first Pope, and that is why this day is also called «Pope’s Day».
It does not seem to be a coincidence that the anniversary of the foundation of the Order and Pope’s day are so close in time. It seems rather a sign of the closeness that has existed between the See of Peter and the Order since its origins. In fact, out of obedience to Pope Urban II, in the year 1090, St. Bruno leaves the newly founded monastery in Chartreuse to become the Holy Father’s advisor in Rome.
It did not seem that St. Bruno was able to adjust to the curial environment. In fact, a year after his arrival to Rome, in 1091, Urban II granted St. Bruno permission to retire and live a totally eremitical life. He set him only one condition: that he should not leave Italy, so that he could continue to count on his advice. It was then that St. Bruno founded the Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno. And after ten years, he died there.
Years later this second Carthusian monastery became a Cistercian monastery. But in 1514, the year of the beatification of St. Bruno, the monastery once again became a monastery of the Carthusian Order. It is in this charterhouse that the relics of St. Bruno are preserved. Among those who have gone to venerate them are two popes: St. John Paul II (in 1984) and Pope Benedict XVI (in 2011).
Finally, it is worth mentioning that on June 3, 2014 Pope Francis wrote a letter to Dom François-Marie Velut, then General of the Order, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the beatification of St. Bruno. In this letter he said about the saint:
I thank God for this beautiful and radiant figure. Bruno’s life, rich in the Gospel, continues to be an inspiration for men and women who desire to follow Jesus in a special way through prayer, and who offer themselves for the salvation of the world.
Five centuries have already passed since Leo X decided to include Bruno in the liturgical calendar after observing the devotion of so many of the faithful to the servant of God. Even today, the whole of his existence, all of it dedicated to the assiduous search for God and communion with Him, remains a shining star on the horizon for the Church and the world.
I greet with special affection and admiration the spiritual daughters and sons of this great saint. In a powerful and beautiful way, their religious consecration points out to the people of this time the faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ. This faith is the true and only light «capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence (…). Faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.» (Lumen Fidei 4)
Benedict XVI’s made a memorable visit to the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno in 2011. During that visit he asserted that the current socio-cultural situation is characterized at times by noise and at other times by individualistic solitude. I make my own the words of my predecessor in reiterating that, in this situation, «the specific charism of the Charterhouse comes to the fore as a precious gift for the Church and for the world. This is a gift that contains a profound message for our life and for all humanity.» (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the Carthusian Monastery of Serra San Bruno, October 9, 2011)
I encourage the monks and nuns to renew their lives by offering themselves to the Lord. I entrust the Carthusian Order to the maternal solicitude of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Bruno. And I willingly grant them a special apostolic blessing.
Let us pray on this day for the health and intentions of Pope Francis and for the unity of the Church.
Anthelm of Chignin was born into a noble family of Savoy, France, in 1107. He was first provost of Geneva Cathedral and canon of Belley Cathedral. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, he refused to find his joy in these exterior possessions and human glory. He had a brother who was Procurator at the Charterhouse of Portes. Conversations with his brother when he visited him and with the Prior convinced him of the excellence of Christian abnegation in the monastic life. He entered the charterhouse of Portes in 1136 or 1137 and soon surpassed the other monks there in the monastic virtues.
This came to the ear of the superior of the Grande Chartreuse, Guigo, who asked the Prior of Portes to send Anthelm to the Mother house, where an avalanche had killed seven of the monks a short time earlier. So it was at the Grande Chartreuse that Anthelm made profession.
Under Guigo’s successor, Hugh, Anthelm was made Procurator. He humbly accepted this charge, although he did not feel any attraction to it, and fulfilled his office with much profit for the House without overlooking his own spiritual needs.
In 1139, when a new Prior was needed, the community, by a unanimous vote, elected Anthelm. As Prior, he rebuilt the Mother house at a site less susceptible to avalanches. But his principal endeavor was the spiritual progress of the community which soon experienced his firmness, tenderness, wisdom and humility. He visited his monks with frequency in their cells and the gentleness of his words filled their hearts with peace. The sick, both in body and soul, had the particular interest of his fatherly care.
He had a special gift in providing a remedy for temptations and in animating those who were discouraged. As regards those who were proficient in the spiritual life, he judged them worthy of all honours. He showed to them all the proofs of perfect esteem even going as far as to give them the right of way as they passed by and to stand up in their presence.
It was during his priorate that the wish was expressed by the Priors of the other Charterhouses for a more stable and more structured organization of the Order in the form of an annual General Chapter. Anthelm was open to this and welcomed the first General Chapter at the Grande Chartreuse in 1140.After the foundation by Saint Bruno (1084) and the Consuetudines written by Guigo (1121-1128), this first General Chapter was like a ‘third starting point’ for the Carthusian Order.
Humble as he was, he repeatedly asked to be dismissed as Prior. After twelve years, in 1151, he finally obtained this. But as the Prior of Portes had died at that time, the monks of Portes asked Basil, Anthelm’s successor as superior of the Mother house, to send them the latter as their new Prior. Anthelm had to accept this.
During his priorate storms destroying the harvest in the region of Portes caused a scarcity of food. Anthelm distributed generously wheat and vegetables from the monastery storage rooms to the farmers. He also came to the financial aid of other monasteries.
Two years later the diocese of Belley, in which Portes is located, needed a new Bishop. The people there strongly wanted Anthelm to become the Bishop. He refused, but to no avail. Pope Alexander III ordered him to accept and ordained Anthelm in 1163.
As Bishop he offered great services to the Church. Within the first year of his consecration he launched a reform of the clergy. He defended the rights of the Church against the powerful. He tried in vain to mediate between St Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England. A bitter conflict with Humbert, count of Savoy, ended with Humbert asking the holy Bishop’s forgiveness, which the latter granted him with great benignity.
He kept up the same monastic fervor as before. Every year he would withdraw for a few days at the Grande Chartreuse, where he had a cell like the other monks. Recommending charity and concord to his priests, Saint Anthelm died on June 26, 1178. Because of the many miracles at his tomb he was soon venerated. Today he is the patron Saint of the diocese of Belley, where the cathedral preciously keeps his relics. His feast is kept both by the Carthusians and the diocese of Belley on June 26.
Let us pray:
Lord our God, You love peace and unity.
By the prayers of Saint Anthelm may we seek always
Blessed John was born in 1123 in the kingdom of Leon (Spain). At the age of thirteen he left his country for France, both to escape the Moslems and for the purpose of studies. He settled in the town of Arles, in Southern France. At sixteen he felt drawn to the monastic life and entered a monastery in the vicinity. After some years, he heard about the recently founded Order of the Carthusians and their monastery of Montrieux not far away, founded in 1118, 5 years before he himself was born. Drawn to their austere and entirely contemplative life, he joined the Carthusians there. Once a Carthusian, he was ordained a priest, was named sacristan and eventually — still a man in his twenties! — elected Prior. We may assume he was precocious on the natural level, but even more so by the early maturity of his virtues.
The nuns of the monastery of Prébayon in the vicinity, following the Rules of Saint Caesarius of Arles and of Saint Benedict, were so impressed with the fervor of Montrieux under John’s leadership that they asked to be admitted to the Carthusian Order, which till then had consisted only of monks. The Prior of the Mother house, la Grande Chartreuse, and Superior General of the Order, Saint Anthelm, authorized this. He asked John to adapt the Consuetudines of Guigo, which were the Carthusian Rule at that time, to the nuns. He did so and this was the beginning of the female branch of the Order. It was the year 1145.
Various difficulties at Montrieux lead to his retirement from the priorship and he moved to la Grande Chartreuse in 1150. Just then, a noble lord in neighboring Savoy asked for a monastery of Carthusians on his lands. Saint Anthelm saw in Blessed John the man of Providence. He sent him to make the foundation in Savoy, which was eventually given the name of le Reposoir. There he governed wisely as Prior for some years.
While being in this new monastery, for several years he copied, for the nuns, the liturgical books in use at the Chartreuse. Finally, he contributed to the ratification of the nuns’ affiliation with the Order, probably during the Second General Chapter in 1155, in which he participated as prior of the Charterhouse of Reposoir.
On June 25, 1160 John died, not yet forty years old. Through unusual circumstances he was interred not inside the enclosure, as the custom is, but outside. In fact, during his priorate, two servants of the monastery, having died in the mountains, under an avalanche of snow, had been interred in an inappropriate place, outside the enclosure, for which John had been reproved. To make amends he had made his monks swear that after his death, they would bury him at the same place as the two servants. This, however, permitted John’s tomb — with his renown for sanctity — to become the object of popular pilgrimages. The faithful prayed at his tomb and many miracles occurred in the course of the centuries, particularly cures of malignant fever. In 1864 Blessed Pius IX approved the cult of Blessed John of Spain, venerated since time immemorial.
Let us pray: God our Father, You called on Blessed John to help draw up a Rule for our nuns. May we who have eagerly embraced the monastic life arrive also at the perfection of charity.We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Some saints have had a special relationship with the Carthusian Order. St. John of the Cross considered the possibility of becoming a Carthusian monk before St. Teresa convinced him to help her in the Carmelite reform. And before founding the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola considered entering the Seville Charterhouse . As we celebrate today, 22nd June, the memorial of the English martyr St. Thomas More (1478-1535), we would like to focus on his relationship with the Carthusian Order.
In 1499 Thomas More, then a brilliant young law student hardly come of age, went to live at the Carthusian monastery of London. In words of William Roper, his-son-in-law and first biographer, «he gave himself to devotion and prayer in the Charterhouse of London, religiously living there, without vow, for about four years». Did he occupy a monk’s cell? Probably not. Most likely he lived in the guesthouse, or somewhere near the monastery. It is hard to believe that he would have been allowed, without any vows, to live for four years in the cloister. The current Statutes of the Carthusian Order establish that «those who neither are, nor aspire to becoming, members of our Order are not to be allowed to stay in our cells» (Book 1, chapter 4.9). Rules must have not been so different in More’s times.
Also, we must remember that at this time More was a diligent student of law at Lincoln’s Inn. Possibly St. Thomas had his lodging near Lincoln’s Inn, hardly a quarter of an hour distant across the gardens and meadows, from where he could, while still pursuing his profession, keep in touch with the monks and be in daily attendance at Divine Office.
His intentions, if he ever seriously had any, of joining that or some other order underwent a change at the end of four years. The philosopher Erasmus, Thomas More’s friend, says that «there was no obstacle to his adopting this kind of life, except the fact that he could not shake off his wish to marry. Accordingly he resolved to be a chaste husband rather than a licentious priest.» However, fate was once more to bring his line of life into close touch with that of the Carthusians when, in 1535, awaiting his own fate in the Tower of London, he saw from his window the Carthusians led away to their cruel end. «Meg,» he said to his favourite daughter, Margaret Roper, «seest thou that these blessed fathers be now as cheerful in going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriages.»
Notable, too, is it that, after More’s execution, when ten Carthusians stood chained upright in filth and misery in Newgate, awaiting Death the Deliverer, it was More’s adopted daughter, Margaret Clement, who played the part of a good angel to the unhappy men. Nine out of these ten monks died from starvation between June and September 1537. Blessed Willliam Horn survived until 4th August 1540, when he was executed at Tyburn Tree. His martyrdom closed the list of the eighteen English Carthusians who died for being Roman Catholics. One of William’s fellow martyrs on that day was Giles Heron, Thomas More’s son-in-law.
Some autors say that the statement made by Erasmus that More «resolved to be a chaste husband rather than a licentious priest» was an implicit reference to the Carthusian monks. We should notice, however, that the Carthusians were held in high esteem by St. Thomas since he called them «blesssed fathers». Besides, no reference to immoral sexual behavior has ever been brought by any writer against the London Charterhouse. Even at the Suppression, when the ill-famed commissioners Roland Lee, Richard Layton and their fellows would have ransacked the very sewers of the monastery to find some charge against the community, they brought forth no single word against the purity of life in that cloister.
Four years living close to the Charterhouse of London must have been a turning point in Saint Thomas’ life. The habits of prayer, fasting, and penance stayed with him for the rest of his life. The Carthusian spirituality play a similar role in many people today. Even when these people do not become a Carthusian monk or nun, the Charterhouse is an orienting star in their lives. Like in the life of Saint Thomas, the Carthusian spirituality is the compass that pointsto what is essential: God’s first.
Today the Carthusian Order celebrates blessed William of Fenol. He is the only carthusian monk in the calendar of saints who was neither a priest nor a martyr. He is celebrated with the «rite of twelve readings» (the equivalent to a feast in the Roman rite). He could be considered the patron of carthusian brothers (those who are not priests). In the following lines we present his biography.
William was born in the early twelfth century, in the township of Monferrato, in the diocese of Alba, in Northern Italy. His family was no doubt an ordinary, but very devout family. He was drawn to solitude and did in fact become a hermit. We may think that his life of prayer as a hermit deeply united him to God.
However, a woman of ill repute came to disturb him in his hermitage. He was able to resist her temptations, but afterwards he realized that he needed the protection of a cloister. So he took the road to the nearby Charterhouse of our Lady of Casotto, Asti, and asked to be admitted as a brother.
As brother William, he became an outstanding member of the community. He faithfully followed the observance of the Rule. He looked upon his superiors only with the eyes of faith and was always disposed to obey them immediately. The virtue by which he shone the most was that of simplicity. “If the eminent practice of virtue is admirable when joined to the splendor of doctrine, better still is its charm when it has for its company the ingenuity, the candor, the simplicity of soul. This simplicity must serve as the supreme wisdom especially for those called to live in the obscurity of the cloister” (statement of «the Postulator»; that is, the official who presented a plea for his beatification in the Roman Catholic Church).
The legend tells that for a time he was in charge of supplying the monastery with provisions. He was the perfect target for highway robbers, and more than once he was left with nothing of what he had obtained from alms. One day he was asked to prepare food for the monastery. There he goes, accompanied by a mule, begging for alms in the farms and villages of the area. He is robbed several times. William enters into a crisis, and complains to the Prior, who, between serious and mocking, invites him to defend himself «even with the mule’s leg». The humble Carthusian, always obedient, the next time he is attacked by bandits, takes the mule’s leg, and manages to scare off the robbers. William puts the animal’s leg in its place and returns to the Charterhouse. However, in his haste he places it upside down, so that the mule limps with great difficulty. The prior notices this. To verify what is true in what is told of the prodigy of our Blessed, he scolds him for his carelessness. Next he orders him to put the leg back as it should be. And so, in front of the whole community and apologizing for his mistake, he naturally removes the leg and puts it back in the right place. All this, of course, without the animal losing blood or braying in pain. Even though it is possible that this story was made up as a parable to emphasize the value of obedience, we include this episode here to explain why in many images this Blessed appears with the leg of a mule.
His simplicity of heart was a great preparation for contemplation. His piety focused on Christ crucified and he could not think of the Passion of our Lord without becoming deeply afflicted. And so, freed from all fear and earthly plans, his only desire was for Eternity, preparing himself for it with constancy until his death, which occurred around the year 1200.
He was buried in the cloister cemetery of the Charterhouse, but God let it emphatically be known that He wanted him to be buried at the gatehouse, outside the enclosure, so that the faithful could come to pilgrimage to his tomb. It is this popular veneration century after century, with accompanying miracles, which are the proof of the sanctity of this humble brother of whom we know so little.
Pope Saint Pius V authorized the transfer of his relics in 1568, and Pope Blessed Pius IX authorized in 1862 the veneration of brother William, whose body was still incorrupt. His feast used to be December 16, but according to the spirit of Vatican II it has been moved outside of Advent and the Carthusians now celebrate him on May 24.
As we said earlier, William could be considered something like the patron of lay monks (known as «brothers»). On this day let us pray especially for them. They are one of the pillars of the Order.
Let us pray: Lord God, You are the nobility of the truly humble, and to serve You is to reign. May we imitate the simplicity of our brother Blessed William, and thus attain the kingdom You have promised to the lowly. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Bibliography: MAYO ESCUDERO, Juan (2000). Santos y beatos de la Cartuja.
Extracted from the prologue to the book «The Power of Silence». Author of the book: Cardinal Robert Sarah Author of the prologue: Nicolas Diat Year: 2016
When the idea germinated of asking the Father General of the Carthusian Order to take part in this book, we scarcely thought that such a project was possible. The cardinal did not want to disturb the silence of the principal monastery of the Order, and it is extremely rare for the Father General to speak.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, in the early afternoon, our train stopped at the station in Chambéry. The gray sky was suspended over the mountains that surround the town. The sadness of winter seemed to set the landscape and the people in a sticky glue. As we approached the Chartreuse mountain range, a snowstorm started and covered the valley with a perfect white. After coming through St. Laurent du Pont on the famous way of Saint Bruno, the road became almost impassable. Driving along by the high walls of the monastery, we came across the novice master, Father Seraphico, and several young monks who were returning from their walk. They turned around as the cardinal’s automobile passed, greeting him discreetly. Then the car stopped in front of a long, solemn, austere building: we had arrived at the Grande Chartreuse.
Thick clumps of snowflakes fell, the wind rushed into the fir trees, but the silence already enveloped our hearts. We slowly crossed the main courtyard, then were directed to the large priors’ house, built by Dom Innocent le Masson in the seventeenth century, which opens onto the imposing officers’ cloister. The seventy-fourth Father General of the Carthusian Order, Dom Dysmas de Lassus, welcomed the cardinal with an especially touching simplicity.
Quickly, after a conversation that lasted no more than five minutes, we arrived at our cells. From the window of the room where I was settled, I could contemplate the monastery, clothed in its white mantle, nestled against the overwhelming slope of the Grand Som, more beautiful than any of the images that have built up the immutable myth of the Grande Chartreuse. The long, solemn series of separate buildings lined up in a row, then, down below, the buildings housing the “obediences” or workshops of the lay Brothers. Very rarely can an outsider pass through the doors of the citadel. In this inspired place, the long tradition of the eremitic Orders, the tragedies of history, and the beauty of creation cross paths. But that is nothing compared with the depth of the spiritual realities; the Grande Chartreuse is a world where souls have abandoned themselves in God and for God.
At half past five, Vespers (Evening Prayer) gathered the Carthusians in the narrow, dark conventual church. In order to get there, it was necessary to walk through endless cold, austere corridors, where I kept thinking about the generations of Carthusians who had hastened their steps in order to participate in the Divine Office. I thought again also about the hateful, disturbing eviction of the religious on April 29, 1903, following the passage of Émile Combes’ law on the expulsion of the religious congregations, which was reminiscent of the dark hours of the French Revolution and the forced departure of the Carthusians in 1792. It is necessary to reflect on that profanation and the arrival in the ancient monastery of an infantry battalion after it had smashed the heavy entrance gates, then of two squadrons of dragoons and hundreds of demolitions specialists. The magistrates and the soldiers made their way into the church, and the Fathers were brought out of their choir stalls one by one and led outdoors. The enemies of God’s silence triumphed in shame. On the one side were the fierce supporters of a world liberated from its Creator, and on the other—the faithful, poor Carthusians, whose only wealth was the beautiful silence of heaven.
On that February evening in 2016, from the first gallery, I saw the white, hooded shadows who were taking possession of the stalls. The Fathers quickly opened the large antiphonaries that allowed them to follow the musical scores of the Vesper texts. The light diminished little by little, the chanting of the psalms followed; the cardinal, who had taken his place beside Dom Dysmas, cautiously turned the pages of the ancient books to follow the prayer. Behind him, the rood screen that separated the stalls of the Fathers in choir from those of the lay Brothers sketched in the half-light a large cross that seemed to lend still greater dignity to this striking darkness.
Carthusian plain chant imparts a slowness, a depth, and a piety that is sweet and at the same time rough. At the end of Vespers, the monks intoned the solemn Salve Regina. Since the twelfth century, every day, the Carthusians have intoned this antiphon to the Virgin Mary. Today there are hardly any monasteries where these notes still resound. Outside, night had fallen, and the faint lights of the monastery finally stopped time. The only thing that broke the silence was the rumbling of the packs of snow that fell from the roofs. A fog seemed to climb from the depths of the narrow valley, and the black mountain slopes provided grandiose, gloomy scenery. The monks went back to the cells. After walking through the immense corridors of the cemetery cloister, each one returned to the cubiculum where he passed such a significant part of his earthly existence. The silence of the Grande Chartreuse reasserted its inalienable rights.
While the earth is sleeping, or trying to forget, the nocturnal Divine Office is the burning heart of Carthusian life. On the first page of the antiphonary that Dom Dysmas had prepared before I arrived, I could read this notice: “Antiphonarium nocturnum, ad usum sacri ordinis cartusiensis.” It was quarter past midnight, and the monks were extinguishing the few vigil lights that were still lit in the church. Perfect darkness covered the whole sanctuary when the Carthusians intoned the first prayers. The night made it possible to observe more clearly than ever the glowing point of light marking the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The sound of the wood in the old walnut stalls seemed to blend with the voices of the monks. The psalms followed one after the other to the slow rhythm of a Gregorian chant tone; those who regularly attend the Divine Office at Benedictine abbeys might regret the lack of purity in the style. But Night Prayer does not lend itself well to merely esthetic considerations. The liturgy unfolds in a half-light that seeks God. There are the voices of the Carthusians, and a perfect silence. Toward half past two in the morning, the bells rang for the Angelus. The monks left the church one by one. Is the nocturnal Divine Office madness or a miracle? In all the Charterhouses in the world, night prepares for day, and day prepares for night.
The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was profoundly touched by the two nocturnal services that marked his stay. For the Cardinal, night warms a man’s heart. The one who keeps vigil at night goes out of himself, the better to find God. The silence of night is the most capable of crushing all the dictatorships of noise. When darkness descends upon the earth, the asceticism of silence can acquire more luminous dimensions.
Before we departed, the cardinal wanted to have a moment of recollection in the cemetery. We walked through the monastery, those long, magnificent galleries, like labyrinths carved out by prayer. The large cloister measures 709 feet from north to south, 75 feet from east to west, or a quadrilateral with a perimeter of 1,568 feet. The foundations of this Gothic complex go back to the twelfth century; since then, permanent silence has reigned.
In the Carthusian deserts, the cemetery is located at the center of the cloister. The graves bore no names, dates, or mementos. On the one side, there were stone crosses, for the generals of the Order, and on the other—wooden crosses for the Fathers and the lay Brothers. The Carthusians are buried in the ground without a coffin, without a tombstone; no distinctive mark recalls their individual lives. I asked Dom Dysmas de Lassus the location of the crosses of the monks who had been his contemporaries and whose deaths he had witnessed. Dom Dysmas no longer knew. “The gusts of wind and the mosses have already done their work”, he declared. He could find only the grave of Dom André Poisson, one of his predecessors, who died in April 2005. The former general died at night, alone, in his cell; he departed to join all the sons of Saint Bruno, and the vast troop of hermits, in heaven.
Since 1084, Carthusians have not wanted to leave any trace. God alone matters. Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis—the world turns and the Cross remains. Before leaving, in the sunshine beneath an immaculate blue sky, the cardinal blessed the tombs. A few moments later, we left the Grande Chartreuse. The Benedictine monk who had come to pick us up declared: “You are leaving paradise.”
Nicholas was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1375. Having obtained his degrees in law at the University of his native city, he was heading for a brilliant career in law, but a providential circumstance moved him to embrace the monastic life in the Carthusian Order. Once visiting the Charterhouse of Bologna, he was detained by a storm and attended the night Office, or Matins, as the Carthusians call it. He was so impressed by the way the monks sang the Office that he could not but ask to be admitted among them.
He made profession and was ordained a priest, always giving an excellent example of the monastic virtues. Unhesitatingly his fellow monks elected him their Prior in 1407, after he had been among them for twelve years. Ten years later the diocese Bologna needed a Bishop. Nicholas was the one all the magistrates unanimously voted for! But he firmly declined. “Only if the Reverend Father Prior of the Grande Chartreuse orders me to accept, will I do so”, he said. Undeterred, the city magistrates sent a delegation to the far-off monastery in France. Reverend Father Dom John Griffenberg consulted his community. All thought Dom Nicholas should accept.
So he became Bishop, but did not abandon the monastic observance, practicing it in the same manner as when he was still in the cloister. He was devout, humble and depreciated what is only transitory. He wore the same rough habit as before, with the hair shirt, observing all the fasts of the Order and making abstinence on bread and water on all Fridays.
He had a deep interior life, spending long hours of prayer at night. Even in the midst of numerous religious and secular affairs which could have likely been obstacles, he was nonetheless able to live according to the spirit of the Carthusian vocation. In everything he appeared as a true son of Saint Bruno.
But his services for the Church were not to remain limited to his diocese of Bologna. Two Popes, Martin V (1417- 1431) and Eugene IV (1431-1447) used him in important roles for the good of the Universal Church. After a mission trying to make peace between France and England, he was given the cardinal’s hat in 1426. As Cardinal “de Sancta Cruce” (because his titular Church was Santa Croce, Holy Cross, in Rome) he made peace between the duke of Burgundy and the king of France (peace of Arras, 1435). Later, at the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, he had a role of the very first order.
He always showed a profound humility, prudence and simplicity. But what most distinguished him was obedience. He did not forget that Saint Bruno (founder of the first Charterhouse), in order to put himself under the immediate service of the Pope, had also left the desert of the Charterhouse, the place he cherished above anything else.
A trial struck him from his own townspeople, who rebelled against him as Bishop. He had to flee Bologna and took refuge with his fellow Carthusians in the Charterhouse of Florence. The Bolognese repented of their action however, and Pope Eugene IV insisted that Nicholas be restored to his see.
Toward the end of his life, he had only one wish: to return to the Charterhouse. He died however on a diplomatic mission to Siena, where he had to accompany the Pope in 1443. On May 9, he breathed his last in that city. After his death, he appeared to his assistant Tommaso da Sarzano and predicted to him that he would become Pope, which soon happened, for he became Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455). Three centuries later, Pope Benedict XIV, who had also formerly been archbishop of Bologna, confirmed the cult of this holy Carthusian.
Prayer: Lord, give us that simplicity of life by which Blessed Nicholas was able to persevere in the Carthusian ideal even in the midst of so many external cares. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Source: Santos y beatos de la Cartuja (by Juan Mayo Escudero) Paining: Recognition of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati (by Vicente Carducho)
In 1535 King Henry VIII decided to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He forced his English subjects to sign the «Act of Supremacy» that established that the head of the Church in England is not the Pope but the King. Many of them accepted. Others managed to flee the country in order to remain loyal to the Pope. Still others suffered martyrdom. This is the case of saints John, Robert, Augustine and their companions, martyrs whom we remember today. They are commemorated in the Order with the «rite of twelve readings». We offer below eight of these readings. In them, the Carthusian Father Maurice Chauncy, who managed to escape from England, recounts the martyrdom of his brothers in the Order.
In the beginning of the year 1535 it was settled by the King, and enacted by the celebrated Act of his Parliament, that all should renounce the authority and obedience they owed to our lord the Pope, or any other superior in other countries, and should acknowledge under an oath, the King himself as supreme head of the Church, in spiritual things as well as in temporal things, under penalty of being held guilty of high treason, and punished with death. Then the three venerable father priors, John, Augustine and Robert, reflecting that the anger of the King was like a messenger of death, resolved together that they would endeavour to mitigate it (leaving the result to the judgement of God), and would anticipate and preoccupy the time of the expected arrival of the King’s councillors by going to Thomas Cromwell, the King’s vicar, to implore him to help them as far as he could to get them exempted from the King’s decree, or to obtain some mitigation or relaxation from the tenor or rigour of it, in regard to taking the oath. Having then approached him and laid before him their wishes and supplications, he not only denied their petition, but ordered them to be sent to the Tower as rebels.
After remaining in the Tower for several days suffering many inconveniences, but standing with great constancy against those who oppressed them, the order for the execution of the three father priors arrived. This was the manner of their death, if manner it can be called, where beyond all human example, the barbarous cruelty of the worst tyrants was surpassed. On being brought out of prison they were thrown down on a hurdle and fastened to it, lying stretched out on their backs; and so lying on the hurdle, they were dragged at the heels of horses through the city until they came to Tyburn: a place where, according to custom, criminals are executed, which is one league distant from the prison. Who can relate what grievous things, what tortures they endured on that whole journey, when one moment the road lay over rough and hard places, at another through wet and muddy ones, which exceedingly abounded. On arrival at the place of execution, our holy father was the first loosened, and then the executioner, as the custom is, bent his knee before him, asking pardon for the cruel work he had to do. O good Jesus! who would not weep to see the servant of Christ undergoing such suffering? Who could behold the benignity of so holy a man without being saddened; how gently and modestly he spoke to his executioner, how sweetly he embraced and kissed him, and how piously he prayed for him and for all the bystanders.
On being ordered to mount the ladder to the gibbet where he was to be hanged, our father meekly obeyed. Then one of the King’s council, who stood there with many thousand people who came together to witness the sight, asked him if he would submit to the King’s command and the Act of Parliament, for if he would he should be pardoned. The holy martyr of Christ answered: “I call upon Almighty God, and I beseech you all on the terrible day of Judgment, to bear witness that being here about to die, I publicly declare that not through any pertinacity, malice, or rebellious spirit, do I commit this disobedience and denial of the will of our lord the King, but solely through fear of God, lest I should offend his Supreme Majesty; because our holy mother the Church has decreed and determined otherwise than your King with his Parliament have ordained; wherefore I am bound in conscience and am prepared, and am not confounded, to endure these and all other torments that can be inflicted, rather than go against the doctrine of the Church. Pray for me and have pity on my brethren, of whom I am the unworthy prior.” And having said these things, he begged the executioner to wait until he had finished his prayer, which was, In you, O Lord, I take refuge… down to Into your hands I commend my spirit, inclusive. Then when a sign was given, the ladder was turned, and so he was hanged. Before his holy soul left his body, one of the bystanders cut the rope, and so falling to the ground, he began for a little bit to throb and breathe.
Our father was then dragged to another adjoining place, where his garments were violently torn off and he was again extended naked on the hurdle. Then the bloodthirsty executioner laid impious hands on him. Having ripped open his belly, he completely eviscerated him, tore out his heart and entrails and threw them into the fire, during which time our most blessed father not only did not cry out on account of the intolerable pain, but on the contrary, while they were tearing out his heart, prayed continually and bore himself most patiently, most meekly and tranquilly, so much so, that not only the presiding officer, but all who saw these things wondered. Being at his last gasp and nearly disembowelled, he cried out with a most sweet voice: “Most lovable Jesus, have mercy on me at this hour.” And, as trustworthy men have reported, he said to the executioner, while in the act of tearing out his heart: “Good Jesus! what will you do with my heart?” And saying this, he expired. Lastly, his head was cut off and his body divided into four parts. In this manner, Reverend Father, your holy son was found faithful till death. He passed from this world to the Lord, on the fourth day of May, 1535, in his forty- eighth year, and the fifth year of his priorate, like a good shepherd who gave his life, not only for his sheep, but for justice, and the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our holy father having been thus put to death, the two other venerable fathers, Robert and Augustine, with another religious named Reynolds, of the Order of Saint Briget, being subjected to the same most cruel death, were at the same time deprived of life, one after another.
Those three saints having been thus put to death, certain men of low condition, and not worthy to be named, came within the next three weeks to Cromwell, vicar of the King, asking authority to make sport of and maltreat other Carthusians. This request having been readily granted, they came to us in a noisy manner and carried off three other venerable fathers, our remaining officers, namely, father Humphrey Middlemore, then being the vicar, and previously procurator of our house; father William Exmew, who had become procurator on removal from the vicariate, and father Sebastian Newdigate, a priest and monk of our house. These three were led off ignominiously to a most filthy prison, where for two whole months they were bound and fastened tightly with iron chains around their necks and thighs, and were cruelly made to stand erect against the posts and pillars of the house, without any relief or relaxation for any purpose whatsoever. At the end of these weeks, they were brought together before the Council and questioned on the same article on which our father had been put to death, and the same proposals were made to them that were made to our father.
As these three fathers constantly professed that they would not go against the decrees and practices of holy mother Church, they were condemned to the same punishment, torture, and death, and within ten days, they suffered the same things as their father. These three were young in regard to age, but mature in mind, full of grace and virtues, and of illustrious family – one of whom, father Sebastian, had been brought up in the King’s house. All were especially learned and of great constancy; boldly alleging from the Sacred Scriptures, before the judges, that the King could not arrogate to himself, as a right and by divine authority, that supremacy of the Church, which Jesus Christ our Lord gave to the Pope and to priests. And they went to death, as to a banquet, accepting it with the greatest meekness, and patience of heart, alacrity of body, and joyful countenance, in the hope of eternal life, the 19th of June, 1535. From the death of these holy brothers of ours, two years elapsed before others were imprisoned, but not without great tribulation to us.
The enclosure was divided: one part followed Jeroboam, who made Israel sin; the other adhered to the house of David, mindful of the justice of the one God, which it had learnt from its youth. One part of the community, seeing how straitened they were, the imminent danger of the overthrow of the house, that they could gain nothing by resisting, and that all the world had followed the King, these, overcome by weariness, committed themselves to the divine mercy, and consented to the royal will, yet not without great pain to their consciences, and many tears. But the rest of the community were not willing to regard the preservation of the house of stone as more precious than themselves, but at once preferring the salvation of their souls to the material house, freely gave up all they had for the sake of their salvation, and would not accept deliverance through any pretence, but with constancy opposed the King, that they might find a better resurrection and a house not made with hands in heaven.
The number of these last was ten, all professed of our London house: three priests, Richard Bere, Thomas Johnson, and Thomas Green; one deacon, John Davy; and six converse Brothers: William Greenwood, Thomas Scryven, Robert Salt, Walter Pierson, Thomas Redyng, and William Horn. All of these, on the fourth of the calends of June, 1537, were thrust into a very foul prison in the city, called Newgate, where all, except one, in a short time died of the filth and foulness of the prison. The King’s vicar was greatly vexed at their deaths in this manner, swearing with a great oath that had they lived, he would have treated them more severely. The survivor, William Horn, a converse Brother, remained safe in prison for three years. Brought forth at length to death, on the fourth of August, 1540*, he suffered like our venerable father, and finished his life with like cruelties. So the son followed the father, maltreated most harshly and for a long time, preferring to be put to death for the love of Jesus Christ, and for the faith of his spouse, the Catholic Church, rather than to speak falsely or to perjure himself.
Prayer: All-powerful God, You sanctified by martyrdom John and his companions because of their fidelity to the Pope. Following the example of their unshakeable attachment to the unity of the See of Peter, may we be able thus to serve You in peace. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Source: The History of the sufferings of 18 Carthusians in England, Burn and Oates, 1890, p.47-70. In: Lectionary for Maitins – Year A – 4 May – Readings 1-8 (Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse 2021)
* Father Chauncy gives the 4th of November, 1541. Wriothesley’s Chronicle, p. 121, says, “This yeare , the fowerth daie of Awgust, were drawen from the Tower of London to Tiburne, Giles Heron, gentleman . . . William Horn, late a lay brother of the Charter House of London…» Wriothesley and Stow, who give the same date, were both in London at the time. Chauncy, who was living at Bruges, must have been misinformed.
Today the Church celebrates St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), a saint who has a special connection to the Carthusian Order. She wrote at least twelve letters to several Carthusian monks who received spiritual advice from her. One of these letters — written to a carthusian monk on the island of Gorgona — is included in the readings for today’s Matins (readings 1 to 8). This is what we would like to share with you today.
Dearest and very loved son in Christ gentle Jesus, I Catherine, slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, am writing to you in his precious blood. I long to see you living in the house of self-knowledge, where you will learn every virtue. Without such knowledge you would be living in every sort of evil, irrationally. But you could say to me, “How can I get into this house, and how can I keep living there?” I will tell you. You know that without light there is nowhere to walk but in the dark, and the darkness will make us stumble. In such darkness you would not be able to recognise what you need along the way. We are all pilgrim travellers, set on the road of the teaching of Christ crucified. Some walk by the way of the commandments, in ordinary charity. Others go the way of the counsels, the way of perfect charity, but without cutting themselves off from the commandments.
In this house of self-knowledge you discover your chief enemy, who would like to make you stumble, your selfish sensuality cloaked in selfish love. That enemy is surrounded by a host of vassals, two of whom are the constant companions of selfish sensuality. One of these is the world with its vanities and pleasures. The other is the devil with his deceits and all his annoyances and deceptive imaginings. Our sensual will leans toward these and gladly finds pleasure in such imaginings no matter how the devil presents them. These principal enemies have many servants, all of whom stand ready to make you stumble, unless the light gives you the discernment to do something about it. So reason takes the light of most holy faith and goes into the house to take control of selfish sensuality. For she knows that this sensuality wants and seeks nothing less than her death. And so she rises up energetically and draws the knife of hatred for that sensuality and of love for true solid virtue, and with it she kills the enemy.
After this your enemies cannot make you stumble. The just Lord does give them license to knock at the door, but he allows this so the guard will be more alert and wisely stay awake instead of falling asleep on the bed of apathy. He also wants to see whether or not this house is sturdy, so that if it is found not to be so, you will have reason to reinforce it, and in the light will see what it is that makes it sturdy and lasting. Once you have seen what that is, take firm hold of it. And what is it that makes us strong and enduring? Continual humble prayer made in the house of self-knowledge and of knowledge of God’s goodness to us. This sort of prayer has humility as its foundation, humility learned in this same house, the house of self-knowledge. We are clothed in the fire of the divine charity discovered in our coming to know God when, in the light, we see how indescribably much we are loved by him. This love is proved and guaranteed in the first creation, where we see that we were created out of love in the image and likeness of God. And in the second creation we see that we were created anew to grace in the blood of the humble spotless Lamb.
There are three ways we can understand prayer.The first is continual prayer, to which everyone is obligated. This is true holy desire grounded in charity for God and our neighbour, by which all that we do for ourselves or for our neighbours is done for God’s honour. Such desire is constantly praying; I mean, the movement of charity in what we do is praying continually before our Creator no matter where we are or when. What fruit do we derive from this? We receive a calm tranquillity within, the tranquillity of a will in harmony with and submissive to reason, a tranquillity that finds nothing a stumbling block. It is not hard for us to bear the yoke of sincere obedience when we are given burdens to carry and manual work to do or are asked to serve our brothers as occasions and circumstances demand; or when we would like to be actually praying and have to do something else. This is the sort of prayer the glorious apostle Paul invites us to when he says that we should pray without ceasing.
There is another sort of prayer. This is vocal prayer: saying orally the Divine Office or some other prayer one might wish to say. The purpose of this sort of prayer is to lead into mental prayer, and this will be its effect if it is well grounded in the first sort of prayer and if you persevere in practicing it, always urging your mind to concentrate on, offer, and be receptive to the movement of charity for God rather than to the sound of the words. And walk wisely: when you sense that your spirit is being visited by God, put words aside, except in the case of the Divine Office, which you are obligated to say. And here is how you will reach the third sort of prayer, mental prayer: by lifting your mind and desire above yourself to consideration of God’s affectionate charity and of yourself. There you will come to know the teaching of truth when you taste the milk of divine sweetness flowing from the breasts of charity. The fruit and effect of this is the unitive state, where you become so united with God as to see yourself no longer in reference to yourself but to God, and your neighbours in reference to God, and God in terms of his infinite goodness.
Now you know what makes us persevere staunchly in the house of self- knowledge, and what it is that leads us there, and where we find it. I have said it is the light that guides us, and that we find it in the teaching of Christ crucified. And it is prayer that locks us in and keeps us there. This is the truth. So, dearest and very loved son, I want you to live continually in the house of self-knowledge so that you will be able to fulfil the vow of holy obedience into which you have recently entered. There is, in fact, no other way you could keep that vow. Once the enemies have been put out and the chief enemy, our sensual will, is dead, this house is filled and beautified with the virtues. I want you to pay attention to this, for it wouldn’t be enough for the house to be empty and not filled up again. This is the cell I want you to carry about with you in whatever you have to do around the island and everywhere else. Never leave it, whether you are in choir, in the refectory in the assembly, or at work; in whatever you have to do, stay locked within it.
I want you too, when you are actually praying, always to direct your understanding to consideration of the movement of God’s charity rather than to whatever gift you may seem to be receiving from God, so that your love may be pure and not mercenary. As for your physical cell, I want you to be there as much as obedience allows, preferring to be embattled there rather than at peace elsewhere. For the devil makes use of this trick with solitaries to make them weary of their cells. He sends them more darkness and struggle and harassment in their cells than outside so that their cells will come to terrify them, as if the cell were the cause of their evil thoughts. I don’t want this to make you turn back. No, be constant and persevering. Never be lazy, but use your time for prayer, for holy reading, and for manual work, keeping your memory always filled with God so that your soul may not be taken over by idleness.
I also want you to judge everything in terms of God’s will, so that you will not fall into disliking and gossiping about your brothers. And I want you to be really distinguished for ready obedience – not now and then or in half-measures but completely. Never resist the will of the rule or of your superior, but make yourself a mirror of observance, a mirror of the Order’s customs, doing your best to observe them even to the point of death. Consider yourself contemptible and of no account, killing your selfish will and disciplining your body with the mortification dictated by the rule. I want you to try hard to bear in charity the words and actions that sometimes seem unbearable – either because of the devil’s deceit or because of your own weakness or because they are in fact unbearable. In this and in everything else put up a good fight, and so live by Christ’s word, that the kingdom of heaven is for those who do violence to themselves.
Source: The Letters of Catherine of Siena, transl. Suzanne Noffke, vol. IV, p. 48-54. In:Lectionary for Maitins – Year A – 29 April – Readings 1-8 (Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse 2021)
Saint Hugh (1053 – 1132), the saint we are celebrating today, could be considered the co-founder of the first Charterhouse. Actually, he was the bishop who received Saint Bruno and his six companions into his diocese, and it was he who granted them the Charterhouse desert («Chartreuse» in French) to live a monastic life there. Below are eight of the twelve readings from last night’s Matins (or Office of Readings). It is part of a biography of Saint Hugh of Grenoble authored by Guigo, who was the fifth prior of Chartreuse.
Hugh had entered the monastery already fervent, and he returned all the more so, when the same pope who had consecrated him, Gregory VII, bade him return to his bishopric. He had increased more in virtue through one year’s pursuit of the monastic life than many do from the labours of a lifetime. From that time on, vigilant circumspection was his only cloister, whereby he regulated both his senses and the thoughts of his heart; rectitude was his abbot, from whose requirements neither favourable nor unfavourable circumstances could ever avert him. For a religious community he was to have pious and upright associates, whom he wished never to be without, considering the words of the Psalm: With the holy you will be holy yourself, and blameless with the innocent man. In fact, the entire universal Church was to be his community, one which he embraced with so deep and sincere a love that neither its sufferings nor its joys could leave him unmoved. For, just as the Apostle says, Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is made to fall and I am not indignant? ; just so, Hugh always rejoiced at the good fortune of the Church, and was in anguish over its reverses.
As Hugh was thus conducting himself in the episcopate, scarcely three years after his return from the monastery, there came to him Master Bruno. He was a man renowned for piety and learning, the perfect refulgence of integrity and self-control, and the epitome of all that it means to have attained true maturity of spirit. With him were Master Landuino, who was to succeed him as Prior of the Chartreuse; Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Die, canons of Saint Rufus who, in their desire for the solitary life, had obtained leave from their abbot to follow Master Bruno; also, a certain Hugh whom they referred to as their Chaplain, since he alone among them exercised the functions of the priesthood; finally, two laymen, Andrew and Guarin, who were to be known as Converse Brothers. They were looking for a site suitable for the eremitical life, but as yet they had not been successful; it was with this hope that they came to our saint, drawn at the same time by the redolence of his manner of life. Hugh received them and entertained them not only with joy, but with reverence as well, and then made their desires a reality. For, not alone with his help and advice, but in his very company as well, they were able to enter the desert of Chartreuse and make a foundation there. Hugh had, in fact, recently seen this same desert in a dream: seven stars were leading the way, and God himself was there building a habitation worthy of himself. It was now no less than seven men who presented themselves before him. Thus, he willingly seconded the plans not only of these men, but also of their successors, and he graciously assisted the inhabitants of the Chartreuse with his counsel and beneficence until death.
Although he was already truly ablaze with divine love, the flame of his virtue was fed by the example of, and contact with, these men, just as a burning torch gains from the placement of others around it. He frequented their company not as ruler or as bishop, but as a companion and most humble brother. As they dwelt two by two in the cell at that time, and Hugh showed himself so ready to render service, as far as possible, to all, his cell companion made a point of protesting (William, at that time Prior of Saint Lawrence, and later Abbot of Saint Theofrid, a man bound, like many others, by a strong devotion to Master Bruno). He said that Hugh arrogated to himself almost all the humble tasks within the cell, and that the bishop comported himself not even as an equal, but rather as a servant. He remarked wistfully that he could do nothing to return the service, even in those matters wherein it was the custom to take turns, since the bishop was always there before him.
Hugh applied himself with such devotion to the eremitical life that, at times, Master Bruno had to force him to leave, with the words, “Go to your sheep, and do your duty in their regard!” Furthermore, he was aflame with such a love for deep humility and poverty that he would have sold all his mounts to give the proceeds to the poor, and gone about preaching on foot. There was someone, however, whose counsels he followed as though they came from the mouth of his abbot, that is, Master Bruno, the man of profound heart. He would not allow it, fearing vainglory on Hugh’s part, censure from the other bishops for singularity, or, which was also obvious enough, Hugh’s inability to carry through his plan because of the difficulty of the terrain. It happened, nonetheless, that in his contempt for fleshly concerns and his notably zealous pursuit of the spiritual, Hugh overly indulged in vigils and fasts, reading, prayers and meditations, and the like, and fell grievously sick with an ailment of head and stomach. This was to cause him unbelievable inconvenience and pain, with its frequent and virulent attacks, for the entire forty years that remained of his life.
When would we ever finish recounting his admirable qualities, even if but briefly touching upon them? For divine grace had gathered into this one man such countless splendours of virtue, that they would have sufficed to make a great many men illustrious and noteworthy, had they been distributed one by one. If chastity is prized, who could be found purer than he? If it is truthfulness we seek, who was more circumspect in speech? In love of God, who more fervent? In love of neighbour, who more benevolent? Who was lower in his humility or more generous in his alms? Who more abundant in his gift of tears, more fervent in prayer, more sublime in contemplation? Who has been more stout- hearted in his endurance of tribulation? In his prudence more cautious? More strict in his justice or more balanced in his temperance? And yet, although he was so great a man as this, he himself never ceased to disparage himself as useless and unproductive, according to the dictum of the Gospel: When you have done everything, say ‘We are unworthy servants.’ He considered that just such a one now occupied the Episcopal seat, received its honours, and made use of its goods, having neither the merits nor the accomplishments of a bishop.
Taking careful note rather of the virtue that he lacked than of that which he possessed, he strongly desired to lay down, by all means, the episcopal burden. Indeed, as we emphasized at the beginning, this opinion of himself and the desire that flowed from it were with him from the moment of his elevation until death. Since, moreover, this conviction grew daily in strength, he finally sent messengers with a letter to this effect to Pope Honorius II. When these failed to obtain his request, and rather returned with a letter of encouragement that counselled perseverance, he himself undertook the journey to Rome, although illness and old age weighed upon him. For he was strengthened by the hope of obtaining repose for the future, and therefore pleaded with the pope to grant his old age its desired rest, and to provide the Church of Grenoble with a more suitable pastor in his place. Yet, despite all the pretexts he thought he could adduce based on his physical and moral condition, not even in person could he obtain what he wished: permission to attend only to God and his own spiritual needs. For the Holy See was convinced that, however feeble and ailing the bishop was, he would more greatly benefit the flock in his care by the example of his life and his personal authority, than could anyone else, no matter how vigorous and healthy. Thus, after obtaining some additional requests from the pope, as well as his esteem and consolation, he returned to France.
Although it had always been clear, from his words and deeds, that God dwelt in his blessed soul, it was most especially in his last illness that it was manifest to all who and what sort of man he was, with what pure affection he had reverenced the Lord, and how profound was the love whereby he had taken the defence of justice and truth in the course of his very long life. For, the unusual violence of his sickness caused his memory to become almost entirely lost or confused, at least in the area that stores the images of spatio-temporal events, that is common to good and evil alike, and indiscriminately serves the purposes of both. Yet, if this section was muddled or destroyed, on the deeper level that is characteristic of angels and saints alone, that is formed by the contours of justice and truth and the whole of liturgical cult, it was not only equal to previous performance, but showed itself the more intrepid and devout. So much was this the case, in fact, that he besought the divine mercy with the beating of his breast, with litanies and psalms, throughout the length of the day and night.
There is really nothing left to say; for these were his dispositions to the last. Throughout all, he never ceased to manifest a special love for his Carthusians and their unworthy prior, a fact I can only mention with tears, nor did he forget them in the midst of his final afflictions. Thus, in the year of our Lord 1132, in at least the eightieth year of his age and the fifty-second of his episcopate, at cock crow on the first of April, the Friday before Palm Sunday, Blessed Hugh, remarkable for reputation and works among all the bishops of his time, his house placed in order and stocked with every good, and with the Church and people committed to his care enjoying tranquillity and peace, made his way to the house of the Lord. He left a Carthusian behind as his successor, in accordance with what he had so long and greatly desired.
Father, through Saint Hugh you manifested the Church’s pastoral care for our first founders. Through his intercession may our Order continue to flourish.
Lectionary for Maitins – Year A* – 22 April – Readings 1-8 (Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse 2021)
*There are three cycles of matins readings: A, B and C. Each house (Carthusian monastery) chooses which cycle to follow.
Images used (in the sequence in which they are shown in this post):
St. Hugo welcomes Bruno and his companions. St. Hugo gives Chartreuse to the founders. Detail from Scenes from the life of St. Bruno and the Charterhouse Order. German school, c 1490-1500 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Detail.
Saint Hugo, Bishop of Grenoble (painting by Francisco de Zurbarán).
The origins of the Order, engraving in the first edition of the Statutes by Amorbach, Basel, 1510.
‘St Hugh in the Carthusian Refectory’, by Francisco de Zurbarán.
St. Bruno bids farewell to St. Hugo before his journey to Rome (Vicente Carducho – Museo Nacional del Prado).
The cross towers over the monastery: it is a warning. Everything here flourishes in the shadow of the cross and in it you come to take shelter. It is good to draw your attention to it at once. The world does not put a better face on it than in St. Paul’s time: foolishness to some, scandal to others (1 Cor 1:23). Even those who preach on thee cross do not do so without much timidity.
Only in his light does the life of the Carthusian make sense. Christ warns you: «If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me» (Lk 9:23). You are weak and sensitive like every man, and that prospect is not altogether pleasant. The Cross would no longer be the Cross if it ceased to afflict. Only the spiritual part of your soul will be able to rejoice. Even for a generous soul, the only attraction of the cross is its relationship to Jesus.
The Son of God became incarnate in order to suffer. His first conscious act at the very moment of his conception was to offer himself as a victim to atone for our sins: «Sacrifices and offerings you did not want, but you formed me a body. Holocausts and atonements for sin did not please you; then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God'» (Heb 10:51). That will was that he should suffer and shed all his blood for us. He will say it later: «No one takes my life from me, I lay it down for myself… this is the command I received from my Father» (Jn 10,18).
Jesus enters fully into the paternal plan and, conforming his will perfectly to that of the Father, he chooses positively to suffer: «Instead of the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross» (Heb 12,2), that is, a whole life of toil and pain, of body, heart and soul: everything in him has been pierced with the bitterness of the Cross. Thanks to this tremendous sacrifice we are what we are supernaturally, «sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ» (Heb 10:10).
The monk does not need to be taught that «the disciple is not above the teacher, nor the servant above his master» (Mt 10:24). If he is in danger of forgetting this, let him listen to St. Peter: «If in doing good you must suffer and bear it patiently, this is pleasing to God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps, he who was blameless» (1 Peter 2:20-21). By its structure, the Christian is a crucified person, and the reason for this is given by St. Paul: «I have been crucified with Christ, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me» (Gal 2,19), and «Christ wants to continue his Passion in his members» (Col 1,24).
The cross is engraved in you by all the sacraments, from Baptism onwards, when you were told when you were signed: «Receive the sign of the Cross on your forehead and in your heart». Confirmation has added a precision: the Cross is your combat script: «I mark you with the sign of the Cross and confirm you with the chrism of health». The Eucharist and Penance revitalise this sign to remind you that everything, in the order of grace, has come to you through the Cross. It is your strength and your programme of life. You will be judged according to it.
The Charterhouse that shelters you from the world is the replica of Eden. Where a garden of delights, the steppe; where a leafy tree, the Cross; man was lost in the earthly Paradise, he is redeemed in the desert. The Cross is the true tree of life.
Climbing the slope of the hermitage you ascend to your Calvary. Don’t dramatise anything; there is no worse deception than the verbal or sentimental inflation that often covers up squalid realities. Many generosities are heroic only in imagination. They are more dream than life.
The cross of the carthusian monk is very simple and very modest, even if it is heavy. You will be hopelessly riddled with the thousand and one setbacks of religious life. It is the most trivial of crosses, heavy because it does not arouse anyone’s interest or compassion. Each one only feels the weight of teir own cross, the only one that hurts. To entrust one’s sorrows to another is no small relief. Don’t do it. In so many ways he knows how to put to the test the marvellous instrument of sensitivity! As the author of it, He polishes it with divine art. The Carthusian should not be bothered by this, for did he not come to the monastery to resemble Christ crucified? God always takes us seriously. Sometimes you will feel like rebelling. A single glance at the crucifix can quell that impulse, without eliminating your sufferings. You would lose a lot by rebelling, even by letting off steam.
Everything that is painful, physically, morally, spiritually, whatever the instrument, men, events, things, even if you are the cause, has the value of a cross for the spirit of faith. It is enough that you accept and offer the painful consequences of your faults or failures. The Church calls Adam’s calamitous slip of the tongue «happy guilt». The best penance is to bear out of love the annoying effects of your follies. Do so, you will always enjoy peace.
If you love intensely, you will long to be lying on the Cross. Do not grieve to see yourself far from it. It is good enough never to rebel, never to flee. Jesus Himself did not go up to Calvary in triumphal march; do not lose sight of Him. St. Paul tells you «Reflect on him who endured such contradiction on the part of sinners, so that you may not grow weary and discouraged» (Heb 12:3).
Holy Scripture is very realistic, it is aware of the poor human heart. The God who inspired it is also the one who moulded us, and our complaints do not displease him when they are addressed to him: «Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest» (Mt 11:28). Our groanings found an echo in the Heart from which so rich a word flowed. We are never to complain about God to men, but He is not displeased when we address gentle reproaches to Him. If Christ is truly your friend he is sufficient for you.
The Carthusian must pray much. Be wary of your weakness; you are no more courageous than the Apostles who protested when Jesus prophesied to them: «You will be scandalised because of me this very night» (Mt 26:31). And so it was. Your only security is that Jesus has prayed for you so that your faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).
Be humble. Carry as best you can the crosses of Providence, before asking for heavier ones. Distant danger does not frighten; how many are paralysed by its proximity! This, however, calls for the love of the Cross. Resignation is the lowest degree of adherence to the Will of God. It lacks warmth and drive; it leaves a trace of regret. Faith in the wisdom, power and goodness of God does not act with full force in the soul. It is one thing to accept what God disposes; it is another to accept it, to want it positively with him, in the clear vision of the good of the Cross.
You are not the one to give yourself this dynamic illumination: by meditating at length on the Passion you prepare yourself, assiduous prayer and generosity in the ordinary sacrifices incline the Lord to grant you this grace. However, you will undoubtedly carry with you for a long time the humiliation of an unconfessed aversion to the Cross.
Do not flee at the first warning, nor cry foul at a scratch. Compare your cross with the sum of suffering that the struggle for life inflicts on the people of the world. Your pusillanimity will make you blush. It is to Jesus and no one else that you must confess your worthlessness, unless you can do no more. He is the only one who can give you effective help. The non-essential confession of our grievances is often worm-eaten with self-love. A human derivative is sought, or an approval of our impatience is begged for, perhaps a little admiration for our tenacity.
The Charterhouse teaches to carry the cross alone, following Jesus and like him. The Cyrenian thought he was being helped by Jesus, when it was Jesus who was injecting his strength into him. On the Cross Jesus did not want the least help, the least relief. You do not possess, it is true, his divine strength, but he is there to sustain you. Your cross is a splinter of his, and he carries it more than you do.
The cross is the daily bread of the Carthusian monk. Without appearance or beauty,» wrote Guigo the Carthusian, «this is how truth must be worshipped. But he wears it so smilingly that he seems to have none. His tears are for the Lord, who makes them flow: «You have an account of my wandering life, put my tears in your bottle.» (Ps 55:9).
Source: «The Hermitage: Spirituality of the Desert». By a monk. Original language: Spanish.
Painting: Christ on the Cross with St. Bruno, Hugo of Lincoln and Hugo of Grenoble. Circa 1600.
On 10 (or 13) April 1377 (or 1378) the Carthusian monk Ludolph of Saxony died. Now, in a week in which we especially meditate on the life of Christ, we would like to share with you an extract from his book «Vita Christi», in which Ludolph tells us about the importance of meditating on the life of Our Lord.
For other foundation no man can lay, the Apostle says, but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Anyone who wishes to lay down the burden of sins and attain peace of heart should heed God’s gracious invitation addressed to sinners: Come to me all that labour with the toil of vices and are burdened, with the baggage of your sins, and I will refresh you by healing and reviving you; and you shall find rest to your souls here and hereafter. Listen, patient, to your loving and devoted physician; come to him with heartfelt contrition, sincere confession, and the firm intention to avoid evil and do good. The sinner who already faithfully believes in Christ and has been reconciled to him through penance should strive to stay close to this physician by devoutly meditating on his most holy life as much as possible.
But take care to do this with deliberation, and not hurry through the reading of Christ’s life; rather, take a small selection in turn each day. With such devout reflections you can celebrate a daily Sabbath for Christ; your thoughts, feelings, prayers, praises, and all of your daily work will lead to this, and you will find delight in it. Here you will find a respite from the din of distractions and worldly preoccupations, and you will enjoy sweet repose. Wherever you may be, return often here; this is a sure and holy refuge to protect you from the manifold varieties of human weakness that constantly assail God’s servants. Frequently consider the major events in Christ’s life: his incarnation, birth, circumcision, epiphany, presentation in the temple, passion, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and his second coming as Judge. Do this with an eye to definite spiritual recollection, self-discipline, and consolation. Meditate on the life of Christ with a thirst to put into practice what you read there.
There are many reasons that this way of living should be a sinner’s greatest aspiration. First, for the forgiveness of sins: when we judge ourselves, accuse ourselves in confession, and freely undertake penance, we are already delivered in no small measure from the squalor of sin; we walk attentively with God and are meditating in the aforesaid manner. For our God is a consuming fire, purifying those who cling to him of their sins. Second, for enlightenment: the one who comes to our aid is a light shining in the darkness. Those who are illumined by this light learn to set proper priorities, giving themselves first to Christ and then to godly concerns, their own, their neighbour’s, and those of the world. Third, for the gift of tears: these are so necessary for a sinner in this miserable valley. Christ, who is the fountain of gardens and the well of living waters, customarily gives these tears to one who stays close to him.
Fourth, for renewal after the sinful lapses of daily life: the Lord always lifts up those who cling to him, as he says: Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Fifth, because of the sweet and longed-for taste, this practice holds for those who possess it, as the Psalmist says: O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet. Sixth, for the knowledge of the Father’s majesty, which can be had only through Christ, as he himself teaches: Neither does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him. Seventh, for the sure deliverance from this world’s dangers that it offers: faithful sinners who daily welcome Christ into their hearts and make a bower for him from these sweet meditations will in turn be sought out and welcomed by Christ after death. What they longed for and grew accustomed to here below they will enjoy forever: life with Christ.
This is a blessed, well-irrigated way of life; it purifies and renews sinners who cling to it, making them fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. To live like this is sweet and lovely: for conversation has no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness. This food is so agreeable and delicious that, once a loving heart has tasted it, all other practices will seem bland. It nourishes and refreshes, for, as Ambrose observes, those who receive Christ into their inner dwelling feed on the greatest delights and abundant pleasures. It is the consolation of the solitary, for whom it is the best of companions, giving joy, comfort, and solace; for the sinner it is a tower of strength against the face of the enemy. This way of life offers an easy and thorough way to contemplate the Creator (a duty from which no one may excuse oneself) because there is no faster way to reach the heights of God’s majesty than by meditating on the life of our Redeemer.
Everyone can follow this practice, the young beginner as well as those advanced in the spiritual life, and all find here a pleasant home in which to nest like a dove, and a hiding place for the offspring of their chaste love. This meditation makes the saints loving, solicitous, and disposed kindly to those who invoke them because of the joy we share with them. For example, could the Blessed Virgin, the mother of mercy, tenderness, and grace, possibly despise you or turn her eyes from you, sinner though you are, when she sees you take her Son (whom she loves above all) into your arms and hold him close to your breast, and this not just once a day, but frequently? Could she possibly desert you when she sees you holding her Son each and every day, attending to every detail of his life, and offering him every service of devotion and affection? Certainly not. So it is with the other saints: they look gladly on those with whom God is pleased to dwell; this way of life turns their clients into their companions, because it is their way of life, too.
Clearly this is the life of Christ’s mother, who served him and cared for him for so many years. This is the life of the apostles, his intimate companions, who persevered faithfully with him. This is the life of the heavenly citizens who enjoy Christ, marvel at his wondrous works, and reverently attend him for all eternity. Here we find what is truly the best part: to sit at the feet of Christ and listen to his words. Rightly, it is not taken away from one who by grace possesses it, for this is the reward promised to the good and faithful servant : a life begun here on earth but fulfilled in eternity. No tongue can sufficiently praise this way of life, which is truly good, holy, and more eminent than any other: it marks the beginning of that profound contemplation we long for in the angelic, eternal life of our true homeland. What can compare with abiding continually with Christ, in whom the angels desire to look? If you wish to reign with Christ forever, begin to reign with him now; do not abandon him, for to serve him is to reign.
According to Augustine, among the entire collection of divine records contained in Sacred Scripture, pride of place should be given to the gospels. For this reason, see to it that you always hold them in your hands and carry them in your heart; they will best illuminate for you the life and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all that pertains to your salvation. In the gospels themselves you will learn the life story of the Word incarnate, what he commands and what he promises, in which you have the way, the truth, and the life. Study carefully Christ’s example: from his life, you will see that you can live rightly; from his commandments, you will know how to live rightly; from his promises, you will desire to live rightly. With these three weapons you can repel our three enemies (impotence, ignorance, negligence). The one who chooses to remain ignorant will be ignored, the negligent person will be neglected, the one who feigns lack of ability will be cast out. So rouse yourself, O soul devoted to Christ! Be alert, Christian! Examine diligently, ponder attentively, tease out scrupulously every detail in the life of Jesus Christ, and follow in your Lords footsteps. For your sake he came down to earth from his heavenly throne; for your own sake, flee earthly things and strive for those of Heaven. If you find that the world is sweet, know that Christ is sweeter; if you find that the world is harsh, know that he endured all its pains for you.
Among those of us who admire the Carthusian Order, several of us have had the honor and privilege of having lived for a few days in one of its monasteries. Having made several retreats at “Cartuja San José”, in Argentina, I’m writing this in order to share this gift with those who haven’t been able to stay in a Carthusian monastery.
There are three biblical quotations that come to my mind when I think of my experience there. The first is Lk 4:1-2: “Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit (…) was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days (…)”. As it is well known, with few exceptions, one can make a retreat in a Charterhouse only if one aspires to embrace that way of life. For sixteen years I was a chronic aspirant. For various reasons, sometimes I felt I had the vocation and sometimes I didn’t. In those sixteen years I made several retreats, eight more exactly, which lasted five days each. That brings the total to about forty days. Maybe it was more (there were retreats of six days I think), but I like the number forty because it helps me to see that going there wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a mistake in my personal history.
I went there as an aspirant for the first time when I was seventeen years old, in January 2000, for a visit that lasted a few hours. I knew that it would take at least four years to enter for two reasons: no one under twenty-one is accepted and the monastery (the building) was at least four years away from completion. The four founding monks were living in a temporary mini Carthusian monastery (now called St. Bruno’s house and has some of the brothers’ workshops). Where the monastery is now located, at that time, it was just removed earth and some foundations. That’s how I also felt, as someone under construction. In those four years I grew up with the monastery. I made three retreats in 2001, 2002 and 2003. But before the new monastery was finished and before I turned twenty-one, many doubts led me to postpone my entry indefinitely.
At the invitation of the rector (there was no prior at that time) I visited the Charterhouse again in 2006 and 2007, but not as an aspirant. In fact I did not occupy monks’ cells; I stayed in the guest house (it was an exception, in a Charterhouse the guest house is for relatives of the monks). They were two very Carthusian retreats but I was free to follow my own rhythm and schedule. After 2007 I stopped going.
In 2011 I visited the “Cartuja” again when my family and I went to see the Dakar rally in Córdoba province, where the monastery is located. This time I was able to go with my mum and two brothers. They were shocked. One of my brothers is in fact an atheist and somewhat anti-clerical, but even today, when we talk about the Charterhouse (the Order or the monastery we visited) he always says “they are something different, they are special”.
That visit also had a deep impact on me. I was about to graduate and I felt more mature. After graduating, in January 2013 I decided to make a final retreat before entering at least the monastery. It was my sixth retreat in the Charterhouse but for the first time I was going to inhabit a monk’s cell. A father’s cell more exactly (Carthusian monks are either “fathers” or “brothers” and the cells are different, bigger for the fathers because they spend more time there). During that retreat, the novice master and I agreed on a date for me to enter as a postulant: July of that year. I didn’t enter immediately because I had some debts to pay. However, in April 2013 a painful event in my family, involving the church (of which I prefer not to give more details) meant that my presence outside was still important. And once again I postponed my entry.
This painful event I was talking about was a turning point in my family’s religiosity. It was a crisis. It affected me too. I was deeply depressed and even started being medicated. And once the clouds began to open up after the storm, a few years later, I made my last two retreats at the Charterhouse, in 2015 and 2016. I occupied brothers’ cells. And in 2016 I saw that that was not my place; in fact I left a few days earlier than planned. Or maybe it is my place, but I was not at my best personally.
It is now 6 years since I last visited this “holy land”. This is the longest period of time without going there since 2000. In these six years the contact with the monks has diminished. I remember that in the first years every time I called them on the phone they answered and I could talk to them. Now my communication with them is sporadic e-mails with the novice master, the only one with whom I am still in contact. Visits like the ones I made in 2006, 2007 and 2011 are now unthinkable. Just as I am very different from the seventeen years old teenager I was on my first visit, San José Charterhouse is not the same either. It has also been maturing and growing as a community. Consequently, it has also been closing the enclosure more and more to resemble the ideal that St. Bruno had when he founded monasteries in Chartreuse and Calabria nine hundred years ago. That is why contact has been decreasing. They are praying.
Sometimes I consider the idea of another retreat there (with the novice master’s permission obviously), but at the moment it would be more difficult to enter as a postulant. I have a stable job which I would have to give up if I want to enter, and if it doesn’t work as a Carthusian I would have to start from scratch in a world (and in a country) where getting a job is increasingly more difficult, especially for someone close to forty. And my family, who in my distant adolescence looked so favorably on my consecration as a religious, would not see it in the same way now. Not to mention that the family has grown and I now have nieces and nephews.
Even when I’m not a Carthusian, the Charterhouse is inside me. This brings me to the second of the three biblical quotations: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem…” (Psalm 137). No one who has gone there leaves the monastery without learning something. In my case it was to detach my faith from the sensitive. There I understood that God is present even when we don’t see him, he listens to us even when we don’t speak, and he speaks in silence. I discovered this above all in the silence and solitude of the cell. I also had a very rich liturgical experience. The mass in the Carthusian rite, so simple and with so many silences, with that balanced combination of Latin and vernacular, and the matins and lauds at midnight… All this was a real school of prayer. I will never forget the Charterhouse. It is in me as the Holy Land was in the heart of Moses. And this brings me to the third biblical quotation which is Deut 34:4. I feel that God says to me too, as to Moses: “I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not enter it”.
What is the world of the Carthusian monks in Pleterje like? Tamino Petelinšek, a photographer who spent almost a month at the monastery last year, tells you about it.
Photographs of the Carthusian monasteries, which the talented photographer Tamino Petelinšek visited in Pleterje for a year, adorn the cover of National Geographic Slovenia. Inside, there is an extensive report. Among other things, he shares with us the insights with which he has recently been «blessed» by the exhaustion he has recently overcome. It is not every day that a photographer has his work on the cover and in the lead article of National Geographic magazine. Nor is it usual to feature monks.
How did you get involved in the «project» of visiting and photographing the Carthusian monks in Pleterje for a year?
A few years ago I went to Pleterje to buy some old apple and pear tree seedlings. At that moment I remembered my first visit to Pleterje, when my father and I met father Stanislav Capudro, who gave us a banquet and showed us around the monastery. That was the first time I glimpsed the mystique of the place. When I was five years old, the Carthusian church was deeply engraved in my memory. Wanting to relive a bit of Carthusian life, I naively left a note for Prior Francis to call me if he ever needed a photographer. He called me back after six years and told me that he was preparing a new video presentation for visitors. He commissioned me to take new shots of community life. He gave me unlimited time. His invitation gave me a new flight and a sense of God’s love. I was moved, joyful, honoured. We agreed that I would go there whenever I wanted, especially on weekends. For the night I was given a cell-like room with a small wood cooker, a kneeler and a table with a window. The bed was hard and the lunches were superb. Over time, I became close to almost everyone in the community. They accepted me as one of their own, even though I knew that, despite my efforts to be invisible, I bothered them. I was aware that I was an outsider, even if they let me know otherwise. It was difficult, especially at the beginning, because their rhythm of life is completely different. For them, the day ends at 5 p.m. when they go to bed, so that it is easier to get up at 11 p.m. These were the hours of silent observation of the monastery, when I knew that I would probably not meet anyone.
How long did these «excursions» usually last?
Because of work and family, I could not afford to «disappear» for a week. I stayed at the Charterhouse for a maximum of four days, and often two nights. 28 days in total. That is the key to good reporting. It is a fallacy to expect good stories to be produced in a few days.
What particularly impressed/surprised/excited you at the Charterhouse?
On my first visits, I found the silence and isolation very distressing. You have to face yourself, you have no distractions. It’s like being in prison, but it’s a very beautiful prison. You are in constant contact with yourself, and sooner or later God calls to your heart and speaks. The rhythm of daily life is very hard, with a fixed schedule. I admire the friars for dedicating their whole life to this spiritual routine, which is in constant relationship with the Creator. In my eyes they are angels, but they have their feet on the ground.
What is angelic and what is earthly about monks?
They are down to earth in the sense that they know their basic needs in life. Although many of them have been in the cloister for most of their lives, they are well acquainted with human evils, they are familiar with diseases, with wars. They know well the sins of the world, and the night prayer is especially for them. They pray for us. That is why they have also eliminated the disturbing elements from their lives. They are very well informed, especially about the essentials. Even if they have no telephone, internet, radio. Once a year they watch a film at the prior’s suggestion. They read Slovenian religious press, and foreigners also subscribe to foreign Catholic newspapers and books. From time to time they hear something about politics that they read in the religious press. Therefore, journalists have a great responsibility. We have a lot of ballast in our way of life. It was only when I left the Charterhouse that I saw what I could eliminate from my life, what I didn’t need.
What is your modern wayside shrine like? We know their motto «Ora et labora» (Pray and work). In eight hours of prayer, spread throughout the day, they pray for our sins, for the world, for all the suffering that exists. They get up at 11 o’clock at night and pray until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. They pray singing Gregorian Chant, which is in Latin. The readings are in Slovenian. The Carthusian monks are multinational communities, and the rules state that the members must speak the language of the country in which the monastery is located. Thus, most of the monks in Pleterje are foreigners. According to the ancient monastic tradition, work is a powerful support for the practice of the virtues on the way to perfect love. By striking a balance between the inner and the outer man, it brings more fruit to the brothers in their solitude. As vegetarians, the role of dairy and fish dishes is a very important element of the menu. They eat twice a day. The best food in Pleterje is undoubtedly trout, which is grown in the monastery garden. The real speciality of their cuisine, in my experience, is trout liver. However, the monks do not live permanently in solitude. On Sundays they gather in a circle under the large redwood trees by the monastery cemetery and discuss daily affairs in a fraternal manner, with no individual standing out. On Mondays they usually take a walk around the monastery, where they talk in pairs. Sometimes these walks are particularly beautiful.
Two men of a very similar name are among the early companions of the holy founder of the Carthusian Order, Saint Bruno. Landuin (with a ‘d’) was the monk who, after Saint Bruno’s departure for Rome and the dispersion of his first companions, led a group of monks back to the Grande Chartreuse, the cradle of the Order, and there became the second Prior. Lanuin (without a ‘d’), whom we remember today, was Saint Bruno’s faithful companion all through his stay in Italy, assisted at his deathbed and became his successor at the Calabrian foundation.
This Lanuin, who was born in Normandy, was not one of the seven who had founded the first monastery with Bruno in France in 1084, but joined himself to that group three or four years later. When in 1090 Saint Bruno was asked by Pope Urban II to leave his new foundation in the French Alps in order to help the Pope in Rome, Lanuin went with him. In Rome he lived with Saint Bruno and a few others as monastically as possible. When Saint Bruno was able to go to Calabria, Lanuin went with him. From this time on, we see him appearing in the documents alongside Saint Bruno. Thus the deed from Count Roger gives the site for a monastery to “Bruno and Lanuin”. A papal bull of 1098 has “to our very dear and honorable sons, Bruno and Lanuin.” At Saint Bruno’s death, October 6, 1101, Lanuin was elected his successor as Prior, which Pope Paschal II warmly approved.
Known for his reputation as a holy and a prudent man, Urban II had already given to Lanuin an important mission at the service of the Church. Paschal II entrusted to him even more responsibilities, charging him among other things with the delicate mission of reforming monasteries of other Orders in the region. At this occasion the Pope wrote to Lanuin:
The sanctity, the sincerity and the religious zeal of which you have given proof in the reform of churches and monasteries, urges us strongly to regard you in high esteem and to render acts of thanksgiving to the Almighty. We, then, are moved by your piety and to confide fully to your fervour, we exhort and oblige you to take to your charge the care of monasteries belonging to our jurisdiction, which are in your vicinity. Examine that in these there would be nothing contrary to the monastic discipline and enforce to reform all abuses with great moderation and discretion.
Hence Paschal II constituted Lanuin arbitrator on all questions that pertain to the reform of the monasteries.
In 1114, he added to the hermitage a coenobitic house, under the rule of St Benedict, for sick monks and where candidates for the eremitical life were to be trained. Great and many occupations did not impede the recollection of our Blessed and his high gift of contemplation. It has been said that exterior activities were imposed on him as a penance; while in solitude it was given him to experience how sweet the Lord is. Returning as promptly as he could to the silence of his desert, he gave to his monks an example of virtue and of perfect fidelity to monastic observance. What was admirable above all was his gentleness.
Lanuin died April 11, 1116 (or 1120) and was buried in Saint Bruno’s tomb, leaving behind a great reputation of sanctity.
Prayer: Lord God, You called Lanuin to be one of Saint Bruno’s companions in solitude. Through the merits of these our first fathers may we also reach the eternal glory of heaven. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Odo, whom we commemorate today, was born in Novara in Northern Italy, at the end of the 11th century. We don’t know what made him prefer to enter at the Carthusians’ Mother house in the French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse.
From there he was sent with the group of the first founders to the Carthusian monastery of Seitz, in Moravia (Austria-Hungary), and then to Our Lady of Casotto (Cartusia Casularum) in Piedmont, from where he is called professed in many documents.
He was then appointed first prior of the charterhouse of Jurklošter (Gyrio, Slovenia). Very serious difficulties awaited him in that House. The local Bishop made life almost impossible for the Carthusians, eventually taking their land by violence and turning their monastery over to another Order. Odo saw no other solution than to go to Rome and plead his cause before Pope Clement III. He also humbly asked the Pope to be discharged from his office of Prior, which he obtained.
Relieved of his pastoral, he intended to return to the solitude of the charterhouse of Casotto. On his way, he lodged for the night at a monastery of Benedictine nuns, Tagliacozzo, in the Abruzzi Mountains, Italy. The nuns were impressed with the obvious holiness of the monk and asked him to stay with them as chaplain and confessor. Odo refused this request, saying he had to return to his monastery. Now the Abbess happened to be a relative of the Pope. She wrote at once to him, and a solemn letter came from the Pope ordering Odo to stay for the rest of his life with the nuns as chaplain! This time there was no choice but to obey.
The nuns had a little cell made for him near the cloister. He was careful to observe the Carthusian Rule, for example, never eating meat. After finishing his daily spiritual practices he served the monastery dedicating himself to manual labor, thus providing alms for the poor of the vicinity. He left the solitude of his cell only to celebrate Mass or hear confession. For the nuns, he was exactly the holy chaplain and confessor they had thought he would be. The situation lasted for ten years or so until his death, January 14, 1200 (or 1198, according to some authors).
The old monk, transformed in Christ, had already done some miracles in his lifetime but did even more so after his death. Around the year 1240 there was a movement to have him canonized, but Pope Gregory IX, who had been interested, died. In consequence of this the cause fell into oblivion, but not the devotion of the faithful. Finally, in 1859 Blessed Pius IX confirmed the cult of which Odo since time immemorial had been the object.
Prayer: Lord, as we celebrate the feast of Blessed Odo, grant us to contemplate Your glory. By persevering faithfully on our way through life may we be rewarded by beholding You in the heavenly homeland. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Ayrald was born to noble parents in Southeastern France toward the end of the eleventh century. One tradition makes him a son of Count William of Burgundy. This would, if true, make him the brother of Archbishop Guido of Vienne who was elected Pope in 1119 and as Calixtus II governed the Church from 1119 to 1124. In any case, Ayrald spurned his wealthy background and entered still young at the Charterhouse of Portes. Since his novitiate he stood out among the other monks by his monastic virtues. No one could meet him without being attracted by his kindness, humility and obedience, which were the fruits of his continual union with God. Hence it was not surprising that eventually the community elected him Prior.
The little town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, in the French Alps, was in those days a bishopric and needed a new Bishop. The cathedral chapter could think of no one they would rather have than Dom Ayrald, the renown of whose virtues had reached them. He, of course, recoiled, but the Pope and the secular overlord, the count of Savoy, insisted and thus overcame his hesitations.
As a Bishop, Ayrald was very faithful to his pastoral activities and succeeded to combine fidelity to his Carthusian monasticism with his new episcopal duties. He always wore his hair shirt and his white woolen habit and above all, he preserved a spirit of silence and solitude in the midst of the many concerns the spiritual and material administration of a diocese brings with it. Whenever possible, he would return to spend a few days at Portes, to give himself to prayer and fasting.
With extreme amiability he met the needs of the poor and received all those visited by misfortune, consoling them and attending to them through ample alms. Like Anthelm and Hugh of Lincoln, Ayrald was an ardent defender of the rights of the Church before the powerful secular leaders.
Prematurely worn out by the fatigues of his ministry Ayrald died on 2nd January 1146, with the happiness and peace which always accompanies the death of the Saints. At his funeral occurred several miraculous cures. The faithful of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne expressed their admiration for the Bishop by placing the following epitaph on his tomb: “Here lies Ayrald, monk of Portes, honor of the pontificate, luminary of the Church, and father of the poor, glorious for his sanctity and for his miracles.”
More miracles took place in the centuries that followed. Finally, in 1863 Pope Pius IX approved the cult since time immemorial of “Blessed Ayrald, Bishop of Maurienne.” He is now celebrated by the Carthusians on 3rd January.
Lord God, You called Blessed Ayrald to the monastic life and have given us in him an example of Your love.
Help us to reach the heavenly kingdom by rejecting the world’s temptations.
“The Charterhouse is more interested in making saints than in declaring them,” wrote Pope Benedict XIV in 1744. This is why the Order never introduces nor encourages causes of canonization of any of its members. However, the Church has recognized 35 saints and blessed in the Carthusian Order: its founder Saint Bruno, three priors, eight bishops, one lay brother, two nuns, eighteen English martyrs and two French martyrs.
In general, this large number of saints is composed of bishops and martyrs, in which case the Carthusian Order does not take part in the beatification and canonization process. In other cases, a “cause” never existed, and the declaration was decreed directly by the Pope. This is called “equivalent canonization” (equipollens canonizatio, in Latin). This is when the Pope recognizes that the veneration of a saint has existed in the Church since ancient times and without interruption.
The first Carthusian to be added to the calendar of saints was Saint Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (England), who died in 1200 and was canonized in 1220. At the same time the celebration of Saint Hugh of Grenoble was also added. He was not a Carthusian monk but could still be considered a co-founder of the first Carthusian monastery. The beatification of Saint Bruno in 1515 naturally brought his inclusion in the calendar. His memorial went beyond the limits of the Order when he was canonized in 1623. In 1607 the memorial of Saint Anthelm, who convoked the first General Chapter of the Order in 1142, was added. And in 1745 was also added the memorial of Blessed Nicholas Albergati, an Italian Carthusian and bishop of the 15th century.
During the pontificate of Pius IX, nine Carthusian saints and blessed were incorporated into the calendar of the Order: Blessed John of Spain (initiator of the female branch of the Order), Saint Rosaline and Blessed Beatrice (French nuns of the 13th and 14th centuries), Saints Stephen and Artold, Blessed Ayrald (the latter three, together with Saint Anthelm, were monks in the French Carthusian monastery of Portes), Blessed William of Fenol (the only Carthusian monk in the calendar of saints who was neither a priest nor a martyr), Blessed Odo (of whom not much is known) and Blessed Boniface of Savoy (a Carthusian novice who never professed because he was appointed Bishop of Canterbury).
In 1887 Pope Leo XIII beatified the eighteen English Carthusians martyred under the reign of Henry VIII, and in 1894 the memorial of Blessed Lanuin, companion and successor of Saint Bruno in the Charterhouse of Calabria, was added to the calendar.
After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI canonized saints John, Robert and Augustine, who belonged to the group of eighteen English martyrs beatified by Leo XIII. The three of them were the first of this group of English monks to be martyred, on 4 May, 1535. Finally, in 1995, two new blessed were added to the calendar of saints by John Paul II: Claude Beguignot and Lazarus Tiersot, martyred during the French Revolution.
In nine centuries of history some of these saints have been celebrated on different dates, sometimes depending on the monastery. This is why until recently there were several different Carthusian calendars. It was only three years ago that a unified calendar was approved for the whole Order. This Calendarium ad Usum Ordinis Cartusiensiswas approved on 30 November 2018 by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. This calendar prescribes the following celebrations:
3 Blessed Ayrald, Monk and Bishop (optional memorial)
14 Blessed Odo, Monk and Bishop (optional memorial)
Anyone familiar with the Roman Rite must have noticed that there are no «feasts» in this Carthusian calendar. Besides, there are celebrations called “3 readings” and “12 readings”, and the category “monk” and “nun”, which do not exist in the Roman Rite. It is worth mentioning here that the Carthusian Order has its own rite, both in the Mass and in the canonical hours. In the “memorials”, the saint is mentioned only in the final prayer. In the celebrations of “3 readings” there are more elements taken from the proper or the common rite. In the celebrations of “12 readings” and in the “solemnities”, the readings of “matins” (equivalent to the “office of readings” in the Roman Rite) are taken from the proper of saints. And, as the name suggests, there are twelve readings in these celebrations.
It is also worth mentioning that Blessed William Horn (celebrated on 5 August) is one of the eighteen English martyrs beatified by Leo XIII. He has his own celebration because he was the last of them to be martyred, on 4 August 1540. Finally, the “other Carthusian martyrs” mentioned in the Carthusian calendar on 16 July, together with Blessed Claude and Lazarus, are several other Carthusians killed because of their loyalty to the faith and the Church. They are:
*other Carthusians, victims of the French Revolution, not yet beatified;
*Dom Justus van Schoonhoven, sacristan of the Charterhouse of Delft (The Netherlands), martyred by Calvinists, in 1572;
*the monks of the Charterhouse of Roermond (The Netherlands), also martyred by Calvinists, in 1572;
*Six monks of Montalegre, killed in Barcelona during the Spanish civil war, in 1936;
*the twelve Carthusians of Farneta, near the city of Lucca, Italy, shot by a contingent of SS Nazis because they had given refuge to Jews and Italian partisans on the ‘wanted list’ of the German army, in 1944.
Hoy se cumplen 10 años de la histórica visita de el Papa emérito Benedicto XVI a la Cartuja de Serra San Bruno, al sur de Italia, en la región de Calabria. Fue en aquella cartuja en donde San Bruno, padre fundador de la Orden, murió. Benedicto pronunció la homilía durante el rezo de Vísperas que a continuación transcribimos.
Venerados Hermanos en el Episcopado, queridos hermanos cartujos, hermanos y hermanas,
Doy gracias al Señor que me ha traído a este lugar de fe y de oración, la Cartuja de Serra San Bruno. Al renovar mi saludo reconocido a monseñor Vincenzo Bertolone, arzobispo de Catanzaro-Squillace, me dirijo con gran afecto a esta comunidad cartuja, a cada uno de sus miembros, a partir del Prior, padre Jacques Dupont, a quien doy las gracias de corazón por sus palabras, pidiéndole que haga llegar mi pensamiento grato y bendiciente al Ministro General y a las Monjas de la Orden.
Quisiera ante todo subrayar que esta visita mía se pone en continuidad con algunos signos de fuerte comunión entre la Sede Apostólica y la Orden Cartuja, que han tenido lugar durante el siglo pasado. En 1924 el Papa Pío XI emanó una Constitución Apostólica con la que aprobó los Estatutos de la Orden, revisados a la luz del Código de Derecho Canónico. En mayo de 1984, el beato Juan Pablo II dirigió al Ministro General una Carta especial, con ocasión del noveno centenario de la fundación por parte de san Bruno de la primera comunidad en la Chartreuse, cerca de Grenoble. El 5 de octubre de ese mismo año, mi amado Predecesor vino aquí, y el recuerdo de su paso entre estos muros está aún vivo. En la estela de estos acontecimiento pasados, pero siempre actuales, vengo hoy a vosotros, y quisiera que este encuentro nuestro pusiera de relieve un vínculo profundo que existe entre Pedro y Bruno, entre el servicio pastoral a la unidad de la Iglesia y la vocación contemplativa en la Iglesia. La comunión eclesial de hecho necesita una fuerza interior, esa fuerza que hace poco el padre prior recordaba citando la expresión «captus ab Uno», referida a san Bruno: «aferrado por el Uno», por Dios, «Unus potens per omnia«, como hemos cantado en el himno de las Vísperas. El ministerio de los pastores toma de las comunidades contemplativas una linfa espiritual que viene de Dios.
«Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare«: abandonar las realidades fugitivas e intentar aferrar lo eterno. En esta expresión de la carta que vuestro Fundador dirigió al Preboste de Reims, Rodolfo, se encierra el núcleo de vuestra espiritualidad (cfr Carta a Rodolfo, 13): el fuerte deseo de entrar en unión de vida con Dios, abandonando todo lo demás, todo aquello que impide esta comunión y dejándose aferrar por el inmenso amor de Dios para vivir sólo de este amor. Queridos hermanos, vosotros habéis encontrado el tesoro escondido, la perla de gran valor (cfr Mt 13,44-46); habéis respondido con radicalidad a la invitación de Jesús: “Si quieres ser perfecto, le dijo Jesús ve, vende todo lo que tienes y dalo a los pobres: así tendrás un tesoro en el cielo. Después, ven y sígueme» (Mt 19,21). Todo monasterio – masculino o femenino – es un oasis en el que, con la oración y la meditación, se excava incesantemente el pozo profundo del que tomar el “agua viva” para nuestra sed más profunda. Pero la Cartuja es un oasis especial, donde el silencio y la soledad son custodiados con particular cuidado, según la forma de vida iniciada por san Bruno y que ha permanecido sin cambios en el curso de los siglos. “Habito en el desierto con los hermanos”, es la frase sintética que escribía vuestro Fundador (Carta a Rodolfo, 4). La visita del Sucesor de Pedro a esta histórica Cartuja pretende confirmar no sólo a vosotros, que vivís aquí, sino a toda la Orden en su misión, de lo más actual y significativa en el mundo de hoy.
El progreso técnico, especialmente en el campo de los transportes y de las comunicaciones, ha hecho la vida del hombre más confortable, pero también más agitada, a veces convulsa. Las ciudades son casi siempre ruidosas: raramente hay silencio en ellas, porque un ruido de fondo permanece siempre, en algunas zonas también de noche. En las últimas décadas, además, el desarrollo de los medios de comunicación ha difundido y amplificado un fenómeno que ya se perfilaba en los años Sesenta: la virtualidad, que corre el riesgo de dominar sobre la realidad. Cada vez más, incluso sin darse cuenta, las personas están inmersas en una dimensión virtual a causa de mensajes audiovisuales que acompañan su vida de la mañana a la noche. Los más jóvenes, que han nacido ya en esta condición, parecen querer llenar de música y de imágenes cada momento vacío, casi por el miedo de sentir, precisamente, este vacío. Se trata de una tendencia que siempre ha existido, especialmente entre los jóvenes y en los contextos urbanos más desarrollados, pero hoy ha alcanzado un nivel tal que se habla de mutación antropológica. Algunas personas ya no son capaces de quedarse durante mucho rato en silencio y en soledad.
He querido aludir a esta condición sociocultural, porque esta pone de relieve el carisma específico de la Cartuja, como un don precioso para la Iglesia y para el mundo, un don que contiene un mensaje profundo para nuestra vida y para toda la humanidad. Lo resumiría así: retirándose en el silencio y en la soledad, el hombre, por así decirlo, se “expone” a la realidad de su desnudez, se expone a ese aparente “vacío” que señalaba antes, para experimentar en cambio la Plenitud, la presencia de Dios, de la Realidad más real que exista, y que está más allá de la dimensión sensible. Es una presencia perceptible en toda criatura: en el aire que respiramos, en la luz que vemos y que nos calienta, en la hierba, en las piedras… Dios, Creator omnium, atraviesa todo, pero está más allá, y precisamente por esto es el fundamento de todo. El monje, dejando todo, por así decirlo, “se arriesga”, se expone a la soledad y al silencio para no vivir de otra cosa más que de lo esencial, y precisamente viviendo de lo esencial encuentra también una profunda comunión con los hermanos, con cada hombre.
Alguno podría pensar que sea suficiente con venir aquí para dar este “salto”. Pero no es así. Esta vocación, como toda vocación, encuentra respuesta en un camino, en la búsqueda de toda una vida. No basta, de hecho, con retirarse a un lugar como éste para aprender a estar en la presencia de Dios. Como en el matrimonio, no basta con celebrar el Sacramento para convertirse en una cosa sola, sino que es necesario dejar que la gracia de Dios actúe y recorrer juntos la cotidianeidad de la vida conyugal, así el llegar a ser monjes requiere tiempo, ejercicio, paciencia, “en una perseverante vigilancia divina – como afirmaba san Bruno – esperando el regreso del Señor para abrirle inmediatamente la puerta» (Carta a Rodolfo, 4); y precisamente en esto consiste la belleza de toda vocación en la Iglesia: dar tiempo a Dios de actuar con su Espíritu y a la propia humanidad de formarse, de crecer según la medida de la madurez de Cristo, en ese particular estado de vida. En Cristo está el todo, la plenitud; necesitamos tiempo para hacer nuestra una de las dimensiones de su misterio. Podríamos decir que éste es un camino de transformación en el que se realiza y se manifiesta el misterio de la resurrección de Cristo en nosotros, misterio al que nos ha remitido esta tarde la Palabra de Dios en la lectura bíblica, tomada de la Carta a los Romanos: el Espíritu Santo, que resucitó a Jesús de entre los muertos, y que dará la vida también a nuestros cuerpos mortales (cfr Rm 8,11), es Aquel que realiza también nuestra configuración a Cristo según la vocación de cada uno, un camino que discurre desde la fuente bautismal hasta la muerte, paso hacia la casa del Padre. A veces, a los ojos del mundo, parece imposible permanecer durante toda la vida en un monasterio, pero en realidad toda una vida es apenas suficiente para entrar en esta unión con Dios, en esa Realidad esencial y profunda que es Jesucristo.
¡Por esto he venido aquí, queridos hermanos que formáis la comunidad cartuja de Serra San Bruno! Para deciros que la Iglesia os necesita, y que vosotros necesitáis a la Iglesia. Vuestro lugar no es marginal: ninguna vocación es marginal en el Pueblo de Dios: somos un único cuerpo, en el que cada miembro es importante y tiene la misma dignidad, y es inseparable del todo. También vosotros, que vivís en un aislamiento voluntario, estáis en realidad en el corazón de la Iglesia, y hacéis correr por sus venas la sangre pura de la contemplación y del amor de Dios.
Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis – así reza vuestro lema. La Cruz de Cristo es el punto firme, en medio de los cambios y de las vicisitudes del mundo. La vida en una Cartuja participa de la estabilidad de la Cruz, que es la de Dios, de su amor fiel. Permaneciendo firmemente unidos a Cristo, como sarmientos a la Vid, también vosotros, hermanos cartujos, estáis asociados a su misterio de salvación, como la Virgen María, que junto a la Cruz stabat, unida al Hijo en la misma oblación de amor. Así, como María y junto con ella, también vosotros estáis insertos profundamente en el misterio de la Iglesia, sacramento de unión de los hombres con Dios y entre sí. En esto vosotros estáis también singularmente cercanos a mi ministerio. Vele por tanto sobre nosotros la Madre Santísima de la Iglesia, y que el santo padre Bruno bendiga siempre desde el cielo a vuestra comunidad.
«No sois vosotros los que me habéis elegido a mí, sino Yo el que os elegí a vosotros» (Jn 15,16).
«Antes que te formara en las maternas entrañas te conocía» (Jr 1,5).
«El Señor me llamó desde antes de mi nacimiento, desde el seno de mi madre me llamó por mi nombre» (Is 49,1).
«Pero cuando agradó a Dios, que me apartó desde el vientre de mi madre, y me llamó por su gracia…» (Ga 1,15).
Tu pensamiento más familiar ha de ser la gratuidad y eternidad de tu vocación, con su cortejo de gracias. Tan verdad lo es de ti como de Jeremías, Isaías, Juan Bautista, San Pablo. Tu llamado al desierto de la Cartuja es eterno como todo lo que te concierne, y trae su origen de una preferencia inexplicable del amor de Dios para contigo. Por toda la eternidad cantarás el privilegio de tamaña misericordia del Señor.
Cualesquiera sean las circunstancias y los motivos personales conscientes que determinaron tu resolución, es el Espíritu Santo el que te ha traído al desierto, como lo hizo con Jesús (Mt 4,1). En realidad, fue el caso del Precursor. Dios te guardaba a la sombra de su mano (Is 49,2), esa mano de padre que te ha modelado, que levanta en tu derredor un muro defensivo, que te dispensa su gracia, te estrecha en la ternura de su abrazo. Esa mano te separa y te consagra. Te separa de lo profano y te consagra al servicio exclusivo de su amor. Te preserva de la cercanía indiscreta de las criaturas, te defiende contra ti mismo, tan propenso a tenderles los brazos. Su contacto te vivifica, purifica y caldea. A él sólo debes todas tus riquezas naturales y sobrenaturales.
La celda del cartujo no es un calabozo enloquecedor donde se lo somete a completa incomunicación. Sea tu fe bastante para vivir la realidad de que eres «el niño llevado a la cadera y acariciado sobre las rodillas (cfr. Is 66,12-13). Entonces «latirá de gozo tu corazón y tus huesos reverdecerán como la hierba» (ib. 14). Como el Precursor, tú has sido querido para Cristo, no sólo en el sentido en que entiende San Pablo que todos los elegidos han sido predestinados (Ef 1,4), antes bien para no tener aquí abajo otra razón de ser que el amor y la glorificación de Jesús. Eres más que el amigo del Esposo. Tu alma es realmente la Esposa y puedes tomar como propias las efusiones del epitalamio místico del Cantar de los Cantares: «Yo soy para mi amado y mi amado es para mí» (6,3).
San Juan no vivió en la intimidad de Cristo. Más dichoso que él eres tú, que posees la Eucaristía y conoces todas las maravillas de la gracia. Puedes con todo derecho esperar recibir «el beso de la boca», prometido a quienes lo dejan todo por seguirlo, y el desierto se tornará «en jardín con macizos de balsameras» donde el Amado «se recrea entre azucenas» (Ct 6,2-3). En este sentido «el más pequeño en el reino de los cielos es mayor que él» (Mt 11,11).
Ten buen cuidado de no quitarle al monasterio su sello de austeridad. Por aquello de que la contemplación es el ejercicio más excelente de la caridad, viene a veces con fuerza la tentación de poner en sordina la rudeza de vida de que todos los anacoretas han dado ejemplo.
Juan Bautista, puro como el que más, no le daba al cuerpo sino lo estrictamente necesario para no morir. El mundo está necesitado de expiación y tú mismo no estás sin pecado, ni sin tendencias perversas. Si el Precursor hubiera asistido a la Pasión, habría ardido en deseos de seguir al Esposo hasta el martirio. Le fue dada, sí, la gracia de derramar su sangre, pero sin el resplandor de la cruz que a ti te ilumina.
Dichoso tú si la Cartuja te cercena hasta el máximo ese confort que tanto hambrea el sentido moderno. El ahorro de tiempo, la superioridad del rendimiento, la liberación del espíritu, no son con frecuencia sino coartadas. El cartujo no tiene en absoluto por qué acompasar el ritmo de su vida a la carrera desbocada de un mundo cuya escala de valores es la inversa de la suya. ¡Se nutre de eternidad! En la esfera de lo temporal no tiene deseos, sólo tiene necesidades; aprenda a no forjárselos. La incomodidad en todo debe serte familiar; el «puedo prescindir» ha de regular tus instalaciones y tus reclamaciones.
Más vale que la obediencia sea para ti freno que no estímulo. El desierto natural se subleva contra toda sensualidad; por eso son tan pocos sus amadores. Pero los que se han dejado seducir saben por experiencia que de un cuerpo tratado con dureza, el espíritu emerge en la pureza y en la luz. Sin ese gusto por las austeridades ¿cómo serías sucesor de los mártires? Ojalá puedas merecer el elogio del Bautista hecho por Jesús: «Juan era la antorcha que arde y luce» (Jn 5,35) (lucerna ardens et lucens).
Según arde y se consume, el cartujo ilumina como la lámpara del sagrario. Se consume mediante la pureza que sofoca los apetitos carnales, se consume por la penitencia, que lo lleva a renunciar a las fuentes de alegría de los hombres. Se consume sobre todo por el amor que es un fuego. El ardor de esa llama, avivada por el Espíritu Santo ha gastado hasta el cuerpo de los místicos y liberado el alma de la Virgen María de sus lazos terrenales. Tu pasión ha de ser Jesucristo y el celo de su gloria en ti y en los demás.
En un instante Juan olvidó las penalidades de los años duros de su preparación, cuando vio ante sus ojos al «Cordero de Dios», cuyos caminos él allanaba (Jn 1,23). Entonces su único anhelo fue: «Es necesario que él crezca y que yo mengue» (Jn 3,30), no sólo en renombre sino aun en su ser espiritual, al presentir el sublime ideal que formulará San Pablo: «Y ya no vivo yo, es Cristo quien vive en mí» (Ga 2,20). Así acaba por consumirse divinizándose la pequeña lámpara.
Para ti la venida del Mesías no es un futuro. Vives bajo el techo de Jesús, cada día te alimentas de su carne, su vida te anima, su Espíritu te guía y estimula, con él estás muerto y resucitado. ¿Por qué tu caridad iba a quedar en un poco de rescoldo? La única explicación de la vida cartujana es ésta: un gran amor requiere la máxima soledad. Tal será tu programa. En el Cuerpo Místico de Cristo te corresponde ser el corazón. Si eso no, ¿qué eres tú, que ni tienes obras, ni predicas, ni administras siquiera los Sacramentos?
Tu vida escondida habla al mundo, mas no será luz para él sino, precisamente, en cuanto brote de un amor concentrado. El Precursor fue un testigo sin igual de Jesucristo a quien tenía por misión señalar: «Ecce», «Helo aquí». También tú en la Iglesia y de cara al mundo eres su testigo; pero lo que en ti habla no es lengua, es tu estado, tu mismo ser. Vives superiormente la doctrina, el ejemplo de Jesucristo, y el ardor de tu fe en acto obliga a pensar en la trascendencia de Aquel que la inspira: «Brille así vuestra luz delante de los hombres, para que vean vuestras buenas obras y glorifiquen a vuestro Padre celestial» (Mt 5,16). Si, conforme al designio divino, tu vida reproduce la imagen perfecta del Hijo, por el hecho mismo evoca el modelo (Rm 8,29). Haces realidad el dicho de San Pablo: «Llevamos siempre en nuestros cuerpos los sufrimientos mortales de Jesús, a fin de que también la vida de Jesús se manifieste en nosotros» (2 Co 4,10).
Jesús es Dios, y, por tanto, eres el testigo de Dios que se refleja en ti como en un espejo (2 Co 3,18). Por tu renuncia a las criaturas proclamas su nada frente al ser de Dios. Por tu sacrificio de los goces que ellas te procuran, pregonas la suficiencia de Dios, soberana felicidad. Por tu aplicación exclusiva a la oración, publicas su infinita Majestad y su Soberanía. Y tu testimonio es de tanto mayor alcance cuanto tu vida está más oculta y silenciosa en la contemplación de esta sobrecogedora trascendencia de Dios.
Su irradiación sobrepuja infinitamente el conocimiento que de ella alcanzan los hombres. Al testimonio no le basta ser dado, tiene que ser acogido. No es cuestión de reportaje, es cuestión de gracia. Sólo Dios abre los ojos a la luz. Por brillante que sea, el ciego no la percibe. El Verbo venido a este mundo «era la luz de los hombres, y la luz ha brillado en las tinieblas y las tinieblas no han podido alcanzarla» (Jn 1,15). Con oración y sacrificios merecerás a los demás la gracia de ser dóciles al testimonio. Mucho predicó Jesús; atribuye el fruto de su apostolado a la oblación muda del Calvario: «Cuando fuere levantado de la tierra, atraeré a todos a mí» (Jn 12,32).
En la Cartuja eres verdaderamente un precursor que abre camino. Pero te hace falta una fe que traslada montes para creer en semejante eficiencia en un contexto vital tan modesto y descarnado. Juan creyó en su misión; cree tú en la tuya. No se buscó a sí mismo; nada hizo por dejar su soledad y deslizarse en el séquito privilegiado de Jesús. Amigo del Esposo como era, se regocijó del júbilo del Esposo, contentándose él con el terrible aislamiento de las mazmorras de Maqueronte, de donde no salió más que para el cara a cara de la eternidad.
El que Jesús no lo haya llamado al Colegio Apostólico, a la fundación de la Iglesia, a la dicha de su intimidad, no arguye menos amor. De ninguno de los Apóstoles hizo panegírico mayor que del que calificó «más que profeta». «Os aseguro que no ha surgido entre los hijos de mujer uno mayor que Juan el Bautista» (Mt 11,9-11). Tenía que ser el modelo alentador de las almas que renunciarían a todo, incluso a la suavidad de los favores divinos, para que sea glorificado en ellas y por ellas el Dios mismo de toda consolación. No es poco olvidarse hasta ese extremo y aguantar en el desierto esa suprema austeridad del silencio de Dios, sin que se cuarteen ni la fe ni la esperanza.
El Precursor supo comprender la actitud misteriosa de Jesús respecto de él, y, en la robustez serena de su fe «por Cristo» —tan distante— «abundaba su consolación» (cf. 2 Co 1,5). Su felicidad no fue otra que la aurora de la salud del mundo (cf. Lucas 2,29-32). Como no ha recibido ministerio alguno en la nueva economía, se oculta en el silencio de la contemplación. De hecho, el amigo del Esposo es también la Esposa, y desde la Visitación no ha salido de la cámara nupcial en que el Verbo la colma de claridades.
Extraído y adaptado de «El Eremitorio: Espiritualidad del desierto» (por un monje)
Sería sorprendente que Dios trajera un alma al desierto para «hablarle al corazón», y no la regalara con alguna de esas visitas inefables que han embriagado a tantos contemplativos. Es preciso dejar la cosa en manos de su liberalidad, y juzgarse «a priori» indigno de todo favor. No se entra en la Cartuja para hacer un experimento. Dios está infinitamente por encima de sus consolaciones, y si se lo posee es por la caridad; el gusto nada añade a la realidad. Aquél depende de su beneplácito, y no «le forzarás la mano». Conténtate con desear que te una consigo con la mayor intimidad posible en la tierra. Es San Juan de la Cruz el que dice: «El amor no consiste en sentir grandes cosas, sino en tener grande desnudez, y padecer por el Amado». Importa mucho que lo entiendas desde los inicios; así te ahorrarás un desengaño, agravado con un error de orientación. La enseñanza auténtica del Monte Tabor no es precisamente la que se suele sacar. Lo esencial para los Apóstoles en este misterio de la Transfiguración no fue tanto el haber entrevisto a Jesús en su gloria, como el haber recibido de labios del mismo Padre la consigna: «Este es mi Hijo muy amado… Escuchadlo… Alzando los ojos a nadie vieron, sino a Jesús solo» (Mt 17). Difícil determinar mejor el puesto de Jesús en la vida del cartujo: no ver ni oír nada fuera de él.
Lo antes posible, toma conciencia de los lazos que te unen a él. Muchos repiten con San Pablo: «Para mí la vida es Cristo» (Flp 21), y luego buscan inspiración en otra parte. En el desierto cartujano eso sería un despropósito. Desconfía del sentimentalismo; el Cristo de las revelaciones privadas corre a veces peligro de hacer que desmerezca la verdadera devoción que se le debe. El Evangelio y San Pablo, su Apóstol más apasionado, te darán el imprescindible genuino «sentido de Cristo».
¿Qué significa la expresión extraña: «Para mí, la vida es Cristo»? Ante todo, que Cristo es en sí mismo la VIDA, la Vida increada, sustancial, divina. Además, que él es la «vida de todo ser». Por fin, que es tu vida, ya que no ha venido a este mundo sino para comunicarte la suya.
Es tu vida porque es su causa; te la ha merecido y te la comunica. Lo es también como objeto suyo. Entiende que en el monasterio no has de vivir «tu vida» sino la suya. Esto supone una renuncia grande de ti mismo: es la suprema pobreza. Con ella te es dado imitar la de Jesús. Así será él tu vida. Concentra en Jesús tu pensamiento, tu amor, tu esperanza. Él tomará efectivamente la dirección de tu vida. Que en derecho lo sea todo para ti no es una quimera. Lo afirma San Pablo: «Cristo ha sido hecho para nosotros Sabiduría, Justicia, Santificación y Redención» (1 Co 1,30).
Delante del Señor nada eres sin Jesús. Medita a menudo esta enseñanza del Apóstol; hallarás en ella gran paz. No habría penitencia capaz de reanudar las relaciones de amistad, si Jesucristo no hubiese de antemano saldado tus deudas. Insiste, como el Apóstol, en el carácter intencionadamente personal de esa mediación. No eres un anónimo en la masa de los redimidos: «Cristo vino al mundo para salvar a los pecadores, de los cuales yo soy el primero. Mas por esto alcancé misericordia, para que en mi primeramente mostrase Jesucristo su longanimidad y sirviera de ejemplo a los que habían de creer en él para la vida eterna» (1 Tm 1,15-16).
El desierto no te pondrá a recaudo de todo desfallecimiento. Tus miserias diarias en nada deben abatirte ni alterar tu alegría. Oye a San Juan, el gran Profeta del Amor: «Hijitos míos, os escribo estas cosas para que no pequéis. Pero si alguno peca, abogado tenemos ante el Padre: Jesucristo, el Justo. Y él es propiciación por nuestros pecados, no sólo por los nuestros, sino por los del mundo entero» (1 Jn 2,1-2). San Juan conocía mejor que nadie el Corazón de Jesús y la eficacia del sacrificio de la Cruz.
Conforme te preserva de una mala tristeza, esta doctrina te precave de una confianza errónea en el valor de tus expiaciones. Éste les viene exclusivamente del hecho de que Cristo las asume. En la Cartuja amar importa más que extenuarse. La Misa ofrecida u oída vale infinitamente más que todas las maceraciones. La Iglesia apela a los méritos de Jesucristo, no a los nuestros.
Toda falta debe despertar en ti el reflejo de un recurso a las satisfacciones del Redentor. No son tus lágrimas las que te lavan, sino la Sangre de Cristo, si bien tienes que llorar la ofensa inferida a Dios. A nadie más que a él debes tu justificación. Dios te tiene por justo no a causa de la exacta conformidad de tu conducta a un Código de leyes, sino por tu adherencia y participación a la Justicia divina. Obra de tal suerte que mirándote Dios vea en ti los rasgos de su Hijo. Tal es la vocación cabal del cristiano: «destinado a reproducir (esa) imagen» (Rm 8,29).
Al imponerte el sayal de los eremitas se te dijo: «Revístete del hombre nuevo», «el que se renueva en orden al conocimiento verdadero, a semejanza de su Creador» (Col 3,10). El mismo Pablo precisa en otro lugar: «Revestíos del Señor Jesucristo» (Rm 13,14). Comprende lo que se te pide.
La Cartuja no es el refugio de una personalidad sombría que ha roto con la sociedad cenobítica, con el fin de no lastimar sus aristas vivas. Por muy solo que estés, no puedes zafarte ante ese trabajo de desasimiento total con miras a transformarte en la semejanza interior con Jesucristo. Progresivamente debes llegar a pensar, a juzgar como él; a amar lo que él ama y como él lo ama; a obrar según las intenciones que fueron las suyas. No se llevará a cabo esa labor sin derribos importantes. A cambio de ello, él podrá vivir en ti, y tú merecerás la complacencia del Padre: no reconoce por hijos sino a los que vivifica el Espíritu de Jesús (Rm 8,14). Es preciso empeñar una voluntad de «desapropiación» incompatible con toda segunda intención de reservar el propio «yo».
Haz esto y te santificarás. Como la justicia del eremita no es la exacta observancia de un Código de leyes, tampoco su santidad es la práctica concienzuda de un catálogo de virtudes. Sé fiel a los Estatutos, es un mínimum necesario. Pero no te dejes paralizar por la letra. Jesús obraba con gran amplitud de miras, eso que había venido a perfeccionar la Ley, y a no tener otro alimento que hacer la voluntad del Padre (Jn 4,34). Lo que te hace justo te hará santo: la imitación perfecta de Jesús, practicar la virtud porque él la practicó y de la manera como él la practicó; por amor del Padre. Tu santidad ha de poseer ese sello filial de amorosa presteza que irradia alegría y deja creer que no te cuesta nada.
En cierto sentido es así. Has hallado tu equilibrio y el equilibrio es generador de paz. Cristo contemplado, amado e imitado ha proyectado la plenitud de su luz sobre el misterio de tu existencia y de tu papel en el plan de Dios. Ésa es la Sabiduría: el conocimiento del «por qué» y del «cómo». Jesús es la Verdad (Jn 14,6). Él ha pedido y alcanzado para ti el Espíritu de Verdad (Jn 14,16-17) a fin de que seas «consagrado en la Verdad» (Jn 17,17).
Jesucristo es toda la Filosofía del cartujo. Con el Evangelio y la Cruz sabe más que todos los pensadores. Los mundanos lo toman por un inculto y un simple. «El lenguaje de la cruz, efectivamente, es locura para los que se pierden» (1 Co 1,18). Ojalá sea siempre para ti «poder de Dios». No te asustes si a veces le encuentras cierto sabor ajeno al sentido común. Sólo tras largo aprendizaje del sufrir saborearás su fruto. La cruz se ofrece primero como instrumento de suplicio; sólo poco a poco se esclarece con la luz del que la ha transfigurado.
Frecuenta a Jesús sin descanso, ya que es tu Todo. La del eremita es una vida «evangélica». Muy lógico que se aficione a revivir con la mente y el corazón al Cristo del Evangelio. La metafísica no colma el corazón. Si se dan sentidos espirituales, sentimientos espirituales, también existen emociones espirituales que desorientan a los psicólogos de escuela, pero que las almas interiores conocen bien. No en vano seguirás al Maestro en todas las idas y venidas de su vida terrestre, devorándolo con los ojos del corazón, contemplando sus actitudes y gestos, sorbiendo sus palabras, comulgando con sus penas y alegrías, orando con Él, viviendo como uno de los suyos. De esa intimidad nacerá en ti algo mucho mejor que una simpatía platónica del exegeta. El eremita debe vivir la amistad que le brinda Cristo (Jn 15,15). Nada hay de novelesco en ese esfuerzo por reconstituir el pasado. Viene legitimado por un principio que vierte a raudales la luz y el gozo en nuestras almas.
Por su ciencia beatífica y su ciencia infusa Jesús sabía ya entonces todo lo tuyo, tus más íntimos pensamientos, los movimientos secretos de tu voluntad buena o mala. Él, durante su paso por la tierra, vivía contigo y para ti. Por encima de veinte siglos entras realmente en contacto con Aquel que, de lejos, leía en la conciencia de Natanael (Jn 1,48). De ti depende que Cristo haya estado más consolado y haya padecido menos. Lo conoces mejor que a tus más íntimos amigos. En él ningún recoveco de inquietantes sombras.
La Iglesia, en su Ciclo Litúrgico, repite cada año esa peregrinación a las fuentes de nuestra salud. Síguela y descubrirás a Cristo en sus misterios. Cada uno de ellos trae siempre su gracia que caldea el corazón e ilumina el espíritu. Así Jesús vendrá a ser para ti «Alguien» muy cercano. Todo él, con su trascendencia divina, sus amabilidades humanas, su influjo salvador en tu alma, es el que se llega a ti en la Eucaristía y a quien adoras en el sagrario. Y ¿podría el monje creerse solo en la Cartuja? ¿Quién habló de la monotonía desesperante de los días?
Vive esa amistad que decimos. Tiene sus condiciones para que sea consoladora. La primera es ser amistad verdadera, con sus intercambios enriquecedores y reconfortantes. Es más lo que recibes que lo que das. Precisamente el don que el Señor espera de ti es tu «receptividad». Los encuentros han de ser para ti una necesidad. Las ocasiones son múltiples: los Sacramentos, las visitas a la iglesia, la «lectio divina», la oración que te sitúa cara a cara con Jesús.
Defiende celosamente tu soledad; las entrevistas de amigos no consienten un tercero. Tu estar presente a Jesús excluye no sólo la atención a las personas, sino también el interés impropio por las cosas. Aprende a contentarte con él. Muchos se imaginan haber llegado a este punto, pero se confidencian con el primero que les sale al paso. Jesús está celoso de tu confianza.
No hay uno que te comprenda mejor que él, y nadie como él sabe consolar y socorrer. Un sentido de Cristo tan delicado es raro aun en religión. Para el eremita es una necesidad vital, es cuestión de perseverancia y de florida santidad. Nada lamentarás de cuanto has dejado, el día que Jesús haya ocupado ese primero y exclusivo puesto en tu existencia. Entonces, en verdad, te habrás sentado con él para cenar (Ap 3,20).
El 21 de septiembre se celebra el Día Internacional del Alzheimer. San Hugo de Grenoble, obispo que ayudara a fundar en su diócesis la Orden cediendo los yermos terrenos de la Cartuja a San Bruno y sus seis compañeros, también sufrió esta enfermedad antes de su muerte.
Murió cuando le faltaban dos meses para los 80 años. Algún tiempo atrás lo olvidó todo, su memoria se apagó fruto de la demencia senil (alzhéimer). Tan sólo recordaba salmos y el padrenuestro.
San Hugo pasó el último periodo de su vida recitando el salterio y repitiendo padrenuestros, es decir rezando en su propia soledad, lo que él siempre anheló y en parte no pudo hacer debido a la responsabilidad de su cargo.
Sufrió muchos achaques de salud a lo largo de su vida, pero siempre supo llevarlos como verdaderos “regalos de Dios”. Trastornos gástricos que le producían dolores y le impedían digerir los alimentos. Un dolor de cabeza continuo por más de 40 años (que no lo sabían sino su médico y su director espiritual y que nadie podía sospechar porque su semblante era siempre alegre y de buen humor). Los malos pensamientos que rodearon toda su vida haciéndolo sufrir muchísimo, pero sin lograr que los consintiera; y al final de su vida la artritis que le producía dolores inmensos y continuos pero nadie se daba cuenta porque sabía colocar una muralla de sonrisas.
Cuarenta días antes del Domingo de Ramos, inicio de la Semana de Pasión, se celebra el Miércoles de Ceniza, primer día de la Cuaresma.
Es una fecha móvil en el calendario litúrgico en la que se impone ceniza en forma de cruz sobre la cabeza de los fieles mientras el sacerdote utiliza alguna de las siguientes frases de la Biblia:
«Concédenos, Señor, el perdón y haznos pasar del pecado a la gracia y de la muerte a la vida» (Gén. 3:19)
«Recuerda que polvo eres y en polvo te convertirás» (Gn. 3,19)
«Arrepiéntete y cree en el Evangelio» (Mc. 1,14-15)
Es una vieja costumbre de penitencia y duelo la de cubrirse la cabeza con ceniza. Los judíos y pueblos del Próximo Oriente lo hacían como gesto de luto, de muerte y de espera en otra vida, de arrepentimiento y de sacrificio. Qué es la cuaresma sino un tiempo de espera y de preparación.
En los primeros siglos de la Iglesia, las personas que querían recibir el Sacramento de la Reconciliación el Jueves Santo, se ponían ceniza en la cabeza. En el año 384 d.C., la Cuaresma adquirió un sentido penitencial para todos los cristianos y desde el siglo XI, la Iglesia de Roma solía poner las cenizas al iniciar los 40 días de penitencia y conversión.
La ceniza procede de la quema de las palmas y ramas de olivos del Domingo de Ramos del año anterior, conservadas para tal rito. De acuerdo a la tradición, esto recuerda que lo que fue, signo de gloria, pronto se reduce a nada. En la tumba barroca del Papa Alejandro VII, Bernini esculpió a un Papa arrodillado y sin tiara pontificia, penitente y despojado de riquezas, con el lema mortuorio de: «Sic transit Gloria mundi» (Así pasa la Gloria del mundo), que señala lo efímero de los triunfos.
También la ceniza es símbolo de que vamos a morir (memento mori), que nos convertiremos en polvo… por lo que hemos de vivir en paz y armonía para con Dios, para con los hombres y para con nosotros mismos.
Los cartujos, inmersos en el recogimiento que durante estos días reina, dan un paso más en su austeridad. Tanto en adviento como en cuaresma, días de preparación respectivamente, prescinde en su dieta habitual (en la que la carne ya está suprimida) de los lácteos. Además, sólo toman pan y agua los viernes, como casi el resto del año.
Bodegón «Pan y agua»
Como dice un amigo: «Tiempo fuerte para profundizar en nuestra relación personal con el mismo Jesús»
Hoy he visto una imagen de San Bruno que portaba un libro, símbolo en este caso de fundador de la Orden, los Estatutos, más que de Doctor de la Iglesia. En él, junto al dibujo de una calavera, símbolo de la muerte, de lo perecedero, del tiempo que se va y no vuelve, se podía leer en latín la siguiente frase del Eclesiastés (1:2):
Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas
Vanidad de vanidades, todo es vanidad. Un claro mensaje el que manda San Bruno… la inutilidad de los placeres mundanos frente a una gran certeza: estamos aquí de paso buscando la unión con Dios. La muerte alcanza a todos y hemos de vivirla de forma íntegra a nuestros valores. ¡¡¡Tempus fugit!!!
Detalle de la imagen de San Bruno
Precisamente ayer me hablaban del sufrimiento que todo apego, deseo o ambición lleva consigo implícito; sufrimos cuando la frustración aparece, cuando las cosas no salen como uno espera, cuando nos apegamos a algo como si fuera nuestro sin serlo… y la principal consecuencia aparece: desosiego en el alma (ansiedad le llamarían otros). No hay muchas soluciones… sólo el desapego, contemplar que la vida es fugaz, que todo está en permanente cambio: el aire que respiramos, así como el día pasa a la noche, o un árbol hoy será distinto a como mañana lo veremos… el viento o las olas del mar que pasan y ya nunca más volverá a pasar la misma. Las personas cambiamos cada día, envejecemos, evolucionamos… nada es perenne… sólo Dios permanece, saber que “Dios no se muda” que decía en un poema Santa Teresa de Ávila, es la solución.
¿Qué es la vanidad? Encuentro esta definición: “se define como un tipo de arrogancia, engreimiento, una expresión exagerada de la soberbia. De acuerdo a la teología cristiana clásica, la vanidad consiste en depositar la confianza en forma excluyente en las cosas mundanas, lo que hace que el hombre no necesite de Dios. Es considerado muy a menudo como el «vicio maestro»”.
Meditemos cuántas veces sobrevaloramos innecesariamente a algo o a alguien.
Ama a Dios y a tu prójimo como a ti mismo. Será lo que permanezca.
La historia de la tortilla es posiblemente tan antigua como el del hombre mismo, por la simplicidad de sus ingredientes y por su fácil preparación. Ya Hernán Cortés hablaba de su existencia en la América precolombina: “Venden huevos de gallinas y de ánsares, y de todas las otras aves que he dicho, en gran cantidad; venden tortillas de huevos hechas. Finalmente, que en los dichos mercados se venden todas cuantas cosas se hallan en toda la tierra…”
Hay varios orígenes de la expresión “tortilla francesa”, pero todas y cada una de ellas derivan de la Guerra de Independencia, aquella en las que las tropas de Napoleón invadieron España allá por el 1808.
Se dice que las tropas francesas durante su invasión robaron y expoliaron todo cuanto pudieron, sin respetar nada. Entre aquellos robos se llevaron los recetarios de la Orden de la Cartuja, popularizándose la receta en Francia (la famosa omelette, de ahí la variante de la mantequilla), y tiempo después, cuando la receta regresó a España se le empezó a llamar “francesa” que sonaba más exótico qué “cartujana”, a pesar de que éstos fueran… sino los inventores, sí los grandes promotores de este plato.
Con toda seguridad lo que hoy llamamos “tortilla francesa” es lo que conocieron nuestros antepasados bajo el piadoso y cenobítico nombre de “tortilla cartujana”, pues ésta nació en las cocinas de la Orden. Plato austero, recurrente y proteínico, en perfecta simbiosis con la filosofía de la comunidad y que además complementa perfectamente con la dieta cartujana exenta de carne.
El refectorio… reflejo de la Orden.
Los ingredientes son básicos (para 1 persona):
-Aceite o mantequilla
El secreto siempre está en batir bien los huevos, ya que de esa manera se ahorra y queda más esponjosa:
Cuatro huevos en un convento, bien batidos hacen ciento.
Después, se añade una pizca de perejil fresco picado muy finamente y la sal al gusto. A continuación se vierte en la sartén caliente, la cual tendrá un poco de aceite o de mantequilla (otras variantes hablan de mezclarlo todo primero). Tortilla viene del latín torta: “voltear”, así que se procede a doblar la tortilla sobre ella misma hasta que cuaje, como si fuese un hábito de monje, doblando igualmente una de las puntas de la tortilla para formar la capucha (seguramente esta presentación sea un guiño actual).
Hace un tiempo descubrí pan cartujano en una panadería. Se trata de una franquicia española instalada en algunas capitales de provincia, es: Panishop. Se dedica al estudio y elaboración del pan desde las más diversas variedades; también apuestan por los dulces y la bollería típica de cada región.
El pan es un alimento imprescindible para la dieta mediterránea, y como no para la dieta de un cartujo; es más, muchos días, generalmente los viernes por ser el día de la Pasión de Cristo, sólo se alimentan de él por mortificación. Dicen los estatutos: “Los monjes del claustro hacen una abstinencia semanal, generalmente el viernes. Ese día se contentan con pan y agua. En ciertos tiempos y días hacen ayuno de Orden, en el que tienen una sola comida.”
El pan en la tienda
No tenemos constancia de que los cartujos elaboraran un tipo de pan único para su orden, pero la referida franquicia (por razones o no de marketing) dice al respecto: “El Pan Cartujano es una especialidad tradicional andaluza, que ha sido posteriormente extendida por toda la geografía española. Su masa dura con miga regular y apretada, se caracteriza por un inconfundible olor y excelente sabor, debido a las cualidades que le aporta el haber sido elaborada al estilo tradicional sin levadura y con masa madre natural.”
Se vende en hogazas de 300 gramos, cantidad perfecta para su uso individual y diario, de ahí más lo de pan cartujano; está elaborado con harinas de trigo y trigo malteado. Sinceramente está exquisito.
En mi último viaje visité la Basílica de Ntra. Sra. del Pilar en Zaragoza, la volvía a visitar después de quince años. Es cierto que la madurez que te dan los años y la perspectiva de la vida te hace verla diferente…pero sin duda me volvió a impresionar tanto o más de como entonces lo hizo.
En esta ocasión, algo preparada la visita, quería observar, palpar y saborear la basílica. Para conseguirlo nada mejor que escaparse “uno consigo mismo”, para ir despacio y poder escuchar cada piedra.
Escribo esta entrada por la Capilla de Santiago de la Comunión, situada casi enfrente de la Santa Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, ya que la imagen del apóstol titular está alojada en un bonito templete circular que perteneció en otro tiempo a la cartuja de Nuestra Señora de las Fuentes, más conocida como la cartuja de Monegros, en el término municipal de Sariñena, en la comarca de Monegros, provincia de Huesca.
Aquella cartuja, hoy en manos privadas y muy lastimada por el tiempo, fue construida en el siglo XVIII en estilo barroco, tal y como es el templete al que nos referimos.
Fue fundada en 1507 por los condes de Sástago, D. Beatriz de Luna y D. Blasco de Aragón, con el fin de enterrar allí a su hijo don Artal. El clima, la tierra yerma y la desaparición de sus benefactores… hizo que los monjes abandonasen este primer asentamiento para instalarse en lo que años después sería, desde 1563, la Cartuja de Aula Dei, en las proximidades de Zaragoza. La suerte lo le fue favorable a esta cartuja. Vendida a la orden de los carmelitas en 1565, pero en 1589 los cartujos tuvieron que volver a ella y retomar sus antiguas celdas, ya que era necesario para poder hacerse cargo de una herencia ligada a la fundación.
Si la orden se caracteriza por su pobreza y austeridad, fueron tiempos de mayor escasez si cabe, de dificultades por los escasos recursos económicos. Fue en 1717 cuando los excedentes pudieron hacer mejoras, y se empezó a construir una nueva cartuja en mejor lugar y con mejores condiciones, hecho que se prolongaría a lo largo del s. XVIII.
Si ya había sufrido esta cartuja durante la Guerra de Independencia (1808-1814) o el Trienio Liberal (1820-1823), fue la desamortización de Mendizábal (1836) la que puso la puntilla e hijo desaparecer a la orden de esta cartuja para siempre, pues sus monjes tuvieron que abandonarla tal y como sucedía en otro lugares, pasando de este modo a manos particulares. Desde 2002 es Conjunto Histórico-Artístico y Bien de Interés Cultural.
Por las fechas de construcción sabemos que las obras que allí se encontraban eran barrocas, así como las pinturas murales que aún se pueden ver, realizadas por el cartujo Manuel Bayeu (1740-1809), hermano del pintor Francisco Bayeu y cuñado de Goya. Entre ella el templete, objeto de nuestra entrada.
Desconocemos cómo el referido templete llegó a la basílica de El Pilar en Zaragoza; hay que suponer que en el momento de la desamortización el cabildo decidiría su traslado o compra. Fue construido por Carlos Salas Viraseca (1728-1780), escultor español de gusto neoclásico que también hizo las obras de la Santa Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Pilar y de la catedral de Huesca entre otras.
El templete es barroco clasicista y se cubre con una cúpula calada, como sucede en la Santa Capilla que alberga la imagen de la Virgen del Pilar dentro de la basílica. Aunque estuvo decorado con veinte imágenes, solo quedan cuatro esculturas sedentes de los Padres de la Iglesia policromadas. La estatua de Santiago titular se debe a Carlos Palao y Otrubia (1857-1934), escultor zaragozano, al igual que las cuatro imágenes exentas de los ángulos del pequeño baldaquino.
Hoy es 6 de octubre de 2012, festividad de San Bruno, fundador de la orden monástica de la Cartuja; con la esperanza de que halles aquí sosiego para tu alma o la información que necesites, te saludo e invito a que leas estas letras que escribo para ti.
Es casi imposible captar en unos instantes la esencia espiritual de los monjes y monjas que un día decidieron seguir los pasos de este santo, aquellos que un día se desprendieron de este mundo para comenzar una nueva vida en solitario y dedicarse plenamente a la alabanza de Dios; máxime en estos tiempos que se premia el laicismo y que la sociedad busca en otras culturas exóticas las respuestas a sus inquietudes espirituales; ahora que se fomenta en consumismo y se valora lo inmediato… Por este motivo nace este blog que pretende mostrar, sin ninguna pretensión, unos valores firmes y anclados en la paz que esta Orden irradia desde hace más de nueve siglos.
Estas letras, querido lector que la voluntad caprichosa de Internet te ha traído hasta aquí, no proceden del interior de los muros de una cartuja… más bien salen desde la agitada rueda de la vida, vida que nos espolea a depender de unos intereses banales creados, ya sea por nosotros mismos ya por la sociedad, la cual nos empuja a olvidarnos del porqué de nuestra verdadera existencia.
Parafraseando un escrito cartujano: «El hombre que busca sentido a su vida, el que busca a Dios encontrará aquí el alimento para continuar su camino». No pretende más mi anónima intención, compartir la riqueza espiritual que he descubierto de la mano de estos hombres.
El Creador, bueno y clemente, no pudiendo soportar más la pérdida de los hombres, conmovido de inefable misericordia, envió un ángel, no cualquiera, sino uno de los primeros, el Arcángel San Gabriel, a una ciudad de Galilea, cuyo nombre era Nazaret, donde vivían los padres de la futura Madre de Dios, en cuya casa vivía la Virgen Santísima, que había ya venido del Templo y estaba desposada con San José. El ángel fue enviado a una Virgen. ¡Oh verdaderamente Virgen, Virgen siempre, Virgen de corazón y de espíritu, Virgen cuya pureza brillaba más que la angélica! ¡Virgen, en fin, dotada de tal belleza, que de la inmensa multitud de los hombres, el Rey Celestial, Hijo del Altísimo, la quiso solo a Ella, por su Madre!
El ángel, pues, entró para saludar a esta Virgen bendita y llevarle el mensaje de Dios, un mensaje tal que jamás se había llevado semejante a la tierra. Pero, ¿a dónde entró cerca de la Virgen? Estaba sentada Ella en el retiro de la morada paterna, en su alcoba y rogando a Dios con todas las fuerzas de su espíritu por la liberación de los hombres, únicamente atenta a la contemplación divina y como absorbida toda en Dios. Pues su espíritu estaba siempre íntimamente unido a Dios, a causa de la gran pureza de su corazón, de suerte que ella podía, cada vez que lo quería, tender a Dios por la contemplación. Es la razón por la que, mientras estaba sentada, suplicando ardientemente a Dios por la venida de Cristo, el Mesías, entró el ángel en esta alcoba en donde vacaba a Dios a sí misma; y le dijo con la más grande reverencia, como convenía tratar a aquella que iba a ser pronto Madre de Dios: “Dios te salve, llena de gracia”, adornada y colmada de la excelencia de todas las virtudes, de toda suerte de dones y carismas. En efecto, a las demás este beneficio se ha concedido en parte, pero en ti se ha infundido la plenitud de toda gracia.
Salve, pues, oh María, colmada de gracia, enteramente exenta de toda mancha, de la menor falta, toda bella, inmaculada, llena de gracia, hasta el punto de que en ti jamás se ha hallado cosa alguna que desagradara a Dios, ni siquiera por un solo momento, sino que la gracia te invadió toda entera y te poseyó toda entera. El Señor está contigo, la Trinidad Santísima está contigo, y esto no de una manera común y vulgar, sino de un modo particular y singularísimo. Porque el Señor se complació en ti y Aquel que te creó tiene sus delicias en morar siempre contigo, atraído por tu belleza. Él mismo te preservó de tal suerte que en ti no hay entrada para tus enemigos. Él siempre está contigo y mora en ti, confirmándote y rodeándote de su gracia, no dejándote nunca, sino preparando en ti una morada digna y conveniente para su Hijo que ha deseado nacer de ti.
Tú eres bendita entre todas las mujeres, más aún, entre todas las criaturas, tú que fuiste prevenida de tantas bendiciones de la divina dulzura, que el Todopoderoso, tu Creador, decidió ser tu Hijo; y Él, que es inmenso en Sí mismo, quiso nacer de ti pequeño. Bendita eres entre todas las mujeres, tú que gozas del honor de la virginidad, tú que sola entre todas las mujeres has concebido sin mengua del pudor y has dado a luz sin dolor, y que por esta concepción y este alumbramiento, has quedado más pura y más santa. Tú que has hallado gracia delante de Dios, lo ha dicho el Arcángel. Aunque sé que tu temor y turbación no vienen de imperfección alguna, sino de tu virtud, quedas, sin embargo, segura de haber hallado gracia delante de Dios; más aún, de haberlo agradado y de haberle sido agradable más allá de toda medida, en razón de tus virtudes eminentes, de tu espíritu, de tus oraciones asiduas y ferventísimas, por las cuales has pedido y hallado la gracia. ¡Oh feliz María, que has pedido y obtenido no la gracia de los hombres, sino la de Dios!
Fuente: Leccionario de maitines – 8 de diciembre – lecturas 9 a 12 – ciclo C.
Beatriz de Ornacieux nació de noble linaje en la segunda mitad del siglo XII, en el sureste de Francia. A los trece años, con la precoz madurez de las mujeres medievales, ingresó en las monjas cartujas de Parménie, donde tuvo por maestra de novicias a Margarita de Oingt, monja muy conocida aún hoy por los escritos que nos ha legado. Entre los escritos de Margarita encontramos la vida de su santa novicia.
Beatriz era muy caritativa y paciente, socorriendo todas las necesidades de sus hermanas, trabajando en la cocina y en la enfermería.
El Maligno la atormentaba con espantosas fantasías impuras y fantasmas nocturnos: animales feroces y ruidos espantosos. Al principio su reacción fue pedir a Dios que la sacara del exilio de esta vida terrenal, pero una voz milagrosa le dijo que no deseara nada que no cumpliera la voluntad de Dios. «Recibe los consuelos que te doy y no rechaces los sufrimientos que te envío», añadió la voz. A partir de entonces se abandonó en las manos de Dios y sólo quiso hacer su voluntad.
Beatriz era un alma ardiente, encendida de amor por su Esposo Jesucristo. Este amor fue el motor de la vida de penitencia que llevó para seguir a Cristo lo más de cerca posible en sus sufrimientos. Él respondió a su ardiente amor y a sus sacrificios concediéndole un conocimiento íntimo de Sí mismo. Más tarde, sin embargo, el aparente abandono del Señor la hizo sufrir mucho. Finalmente, Beatriz gozó de la plena unión con Dios y recobró la perfecta paz de su alma, para no perderla nunca más.
En 1300, Parménie hizo una nueva fundación en Eymeu, también en el sureste de Francia. Beatriz fue elegida fundadora y priora. Allí murió santamente, el 25 de noviembre de 1303.
Cuando la Orden no pudo mantener Eymeu, sus reliquias fueron llevadas a Parménie. Este último monasterio tuvo que ser abandonado a causa de una sublevación de los albigenses. Poco después de que las monjas huyeran del monasterio, los herejes quemaron la Casa, y las preciosas reliquias de la Beata Beatriz se perdieron entre los escombros de la destrucción. Sin embargo, su culto nunca murió, especialmente en la Orden Cartujana, donde se la honró continuamente, como nos muestra una abundante iconografía. En el siglo XVII, una pastora de la región encontró las reliquias, y en 1697 el cardenal Le Camus declaró que eran auténticas. El obispo de Grenoble las inspeccionó de nuevo en 1839, con la apertura de su tumba. En 1869, el beato Pío IX permitió que su fiesta se celebrara en la Orden de los Cartujos cada 25 de noviembre.
Por la imitación de la Pasión de Cristo hiciste, Señor, a la beata Beatriz, virgen, una víctima de tu amor;
concédenos por su intercesión y ejemplo, compartir aquí en la tierra los padecimientos de tu Hijo
y participar un día de tu gloria en el Cielo.
Por Cristo Nuestro Señor. Amén.
Santos y Beatos de la Cartuja (Juan Mayo Escudero)