It has been fantastic to visit with my friends at the monastery of San Benedetto in Monte–the full name of the fledgling monastery at Norcia.
When I last visited in the summer of 2015 the monks were ensconced in the center of Norcia town. Their church was the basilica built over the site of the birthplace of St Benedict. They occupied various buildings around the basilica in a kind of makeshift Benedictine monastery.
Then the next year the earthquake hit. Hard. Twice.
My former student, Br Augustine Wilmeth, who is a monk at Norcia, described how they moved to some land they had purchased in 2007 on a hillside overlooking Norcia town. It was the site of an abandoned Capuchin convent. They had been restoring the church with eventual plans to restore the convent buildings and move there in due time. After the earthquake they moved immediately, and when the second earthquake hit they knew they would not be going back to Norcia. The basilica as well as every other church in the town was practically leveled. The picture with this post shows the ruined basilica in the heart of Norcia.
In addition, the diocesan authorities who had allowed them to occupy the old buildings in the town decided they wanted them back. The monks are mostly American. They’re traditionalist (everything is according to the extraordinary form) so you can imagine they are not everybody’s favorites.
So the monks moved to their land outside town and for the first winter after the earthquake they lived in tents on the site. They hastily erected some temporary buildings and then built a modest wooden structure to be their home. Now they are at work re-building the old Capuchin church and convent–the ruins of which had also been very badly damaged by the earthquake. I’ll be writing more about the monks and their work in weeks to come, but you can check out their website here.
The whole story is reminiscent of St Francis re-building the church at San Damiano, and as I prayed and pondered this story, it seems to be a poignant lesson for the church today. Many are feeling like our Catholic church has been hit by not two, but multiple earthquakes–modernism, doctrinal confusion, immorality, financial corruption, weak leadership, secularism, relativism–all of these have hit the Catholic Church hard, and like the situation at Norcia, it feels like the hierarchy are making things worse through suspicion, obstruction, stubbornness, venality, ignorance, arrogance and fear.
So what to do? We do what the monks of Norcia have done. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, rally the troops, move out of town and start again. The fact that the monks were reduced to living in tents in the wilderness is itself significant. It is a sign. Like the nomads, the patriarchs of old, they were reminded that they (and we) are a pilgrim people. We dwell in tents. We do not put our tent stakes too deep. We are always ready to move on.
Is the church hit with an earthquake? So like the monks of Norica we go back to the basics–not just the basics of the liturgy, the spirituality, theology or the religious life, but the basics of the Christian gospel.
What are we about really? Yes, yes, the liturgy is important. Yes of course doctrinal clarity is important. The corporate works of mercy are important, the church and all her hierarchy and history and bureaucracy are important, teaching the faith is important.
But most important of all is the simple, basic gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
When an earthquake happens there is nothing you can do about it except run for an open space and then once it is all over lament the damage, begin the clean up and start again.
In other words, it is the mantra I have been repeating on this blog for some time now. Do you feel like the church is in crisis? Do you think it has been “infiltrated” with communists, feminists, homosexuals, modernists, Freemasons, etc. etc? Well if it makes you feel better have a little grumble with your chums, but when it is all over roll up your sleeves, put your trust in the Lord and do what you can with what you have where you are.
But be prepared for hard work. Be prepared to be misunderstood and laughed at. Be prepared for failure and success. Be prepared for prayer, work and study. Be prepared for obedience, stability and conversion of life.
This is not only what the monks of Norcia have done. This is what the Benedictines have done countless times down the ages. They have gone back to the monasteries destroyed by revolution, war and insurrection. They have picked up the fallen stones and started to re-build. Steadily and surely and strongly they have built.
When you do this you are living the faith. When you do this everything will be provided. You will have joy in your life. Others will be inspired and you will be doing something beautiful for God. When you do this you will have great confidence and trust in God. You will not be afraid. You will not be discouraged. You will not be swayed by every wind of doctrine nor perturbed by every rumor of scandal. You will not be dismayed by corruption or infidelity and immorality in the church. You will expect that, but you will not judge or analyze. You will not blame or become cynical by the hypocrisy, the deceit and the false doctrine.
You will simply acknowledge the earthquake, lament the damage and lives lost. Grieve with God, then pick up and start again.
Earthquakes? They give you new motivation, new inspiration, new energy to do something which is ever ancient and ever new.