On February 10th, 2017, Feast of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, our Congregation’s Curia at Saint’Ambrogio, where I live, introduced the Office of Vigils into the daily horarium (schedule). Our Abbot President Guillermo is clear that while the curia is not a monastery in the ordinary sense of the word, nonetheless those elected or assigned to be here are monks, and so the monastic life needs to be encouraged. In addition to being a “working place” for the benefit of our Congregation, it is also to be a place where monks live and pray.
That being said, the Office of Vigils is now prayed at 5:30 am and lasts about 40 minutes on weekdays and about an hour on Sundays and Solemnities. After daily Vigils there is time for private Lectio Divina, the prayerful pondering of Sacred Scripture (the Bible), in the chapel or one’s cell. Lauds is prayed together in chapel at 7:00 am, followed by Holy Mass. After Communion and before the end of Mass, the psalms of Terce are prayed. This is another addition of the Abbot President, so that the entire round of the Divine Office is observed here each day.
After Mass and Terce, which ends at about 8:00 am, we have breakfast and then on to work by about 9:00 am. The work period lasts until about 12:30 pm. Sext is prayed at 12:45 pm and the Office of None immediately after Sext. We then have pronzo (lunch) at about 1:00 pm.
What do we eat? Pasta (of course), as the “first course,” prepared in various and sundry ways, and is always good! After the pasta (or occasionally rice), we are served the main dish, which may be beef, chicken, turkey or fish. There is always a vegetable dish also, such as cooked carrots, onions, mushrooms, squash, etc. The main meal includes a green salad, cheese, bread and fruit for dessert and sometimes a pastry or ice cream as well. To drink there is always water and wine. I think the Italians think we eat quite differently at home, but the meals are pretty similar, with absence of beef and wine, not routinely served at Christ in the Desert.
The evening meal here always starts with soup, then heated leftovers from the midday meal, also cheese, a plate of sliced prosciutto or similar meats, as well as bread, water and wine. I grew up eating beef, but really have not eaten much of it in the last many years. That has been the only dietary adjustment for me. In an attempt to keep cholesterol levels down, I avoid cheese whenever possible, but do take a glass of red wine now and then, as recommended by my doctor (was she joking or serious?).
Breakfast here is minimal, with tea or coffee, bread, hardboiled eggs and fruit. I have a bowl of Quaker Oats, easily obtained at a nearby grocery store, sold in metal cans rather than cardboard containers, but the same oats as we get in the states. We also have orange juice available for breakfast (maybe only since I arrived).
The afternoon following pranzo (main meal) and dishes (ending at about 2:00 pm) is free for a break and then usually work again from 3:30 pm or so until 6:30 pm. So the work day is about six and a half hours. Vespers is prayed at 7:00 pm, followed by cena, the evening meal, then dishes and then to chapel where the chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict assigned to the day is read by the Abbot President, followed by Compline. The day thus ends at about 8:30 pm.
What do I do here? Of course part of it is “keeping the prayers going” by attendance at the Divine Office and Mass each day. It also means normally being present at meals and helping with dishes afterwards.
But the “work,” each day is a variety of things, and that seems to fit my personality well. From my arrival here I have been assisting in notifying our nearly one hundred monasteries of monks and nuns belonging to the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation, of their annual fees to our Benedictine headquarters at Sant’Anselmo in Rome. These funds from the Benedictine monasteries of the various Congregations from around the world are a help in keeping Sant’Anselmo functioning.
Sant’Anselmo is the place of residence of our Benedictine Abbot Primate and has various schools attached as well. It is also a place where monks from around the world can live while pursuing studies in the Eternal City. Sant’Anselmo has been providing this service for over one hundred years. I lived there from 1985 to 1988, though doing studies at the Order of Preachers (Dominican) Pontifical University of Saint Thomas (usually called “the Angelicum”), a couple of miles from Sant’Anselmo. It was a pleasant half hour walk to classes there and back again each day.
My assisting in the work of notifying our Subiaco Casinese monasteries of their “payment due” is not complex in theory, but time consuming, to make sure all is in order before the letter of explanation and the actual “bills” are sent electronically, which includes payment due to our curia, Sant’Ambrogio in Rome, as well. These contributions also keep Sant’Ambrogio afloat. For some weeks already, Father Luigi Tiana, our Procurator General, and I have been working on the letters and bills going to each of our monasteries. This job has taken time and attention to prepare properly. It is not very exciting in its scope, but “someone has to do it,” as they say.
As secretary to our Abbot President Guillermo Leon Arboleda Tamayo, I assist him in getting visas for countries he will visit in his role as overseer of our monasteries, though he is without much “power” per se over houses, because we are comprised of fully autonomous monasteries, and not a centralized Order like the Jesuits or Franciscans, for example.
Other work for me includes assisting one of the student monks here (there are at present two) by enrolling him in an intensive Italian language course so that he can eventually do philosophy and theology studies here, in Italian. Though “student monks,” these two men here are in solemn vows, meaning they have already made a life-time commitment to monastic life in a particular monastery.
There can be a tendency, as was at the case at Sant’Anselmo when I was there, and maybe still so, to think of student monks, usually not yet priests, though some may in fact be ordained, as novices or neophytes in the monastic life. More likely that is far from the truth for many or at least most student monks in Rome.
In ages past monks were often sent to Rome right after making first (sometimes called temporary) vows, so they were in fact new to monastic life. But that reality, of sending newly professed away, seems pretty much to have ended, and wisely so. Monks need time to settle and grow in their life and monastery of profession over several or even many years, and to be sent away for studies soon after profession generally is not a good idea.
The best language school nearby and reasonably priced is the “Scuola Leonardo da Vinci,” which also has satellite schools in Florence, Milan and Siena. If you are looking for a place to study Italian, I recommend a look at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci website. I also would mention that those carrying a USA passport can normally stay in Italy up to three months. Longer than that, you need a visa (“vista” in Italian), obtained from an Italian Embassy or Consulate near you or to which state you live in is assigned.
As a New Mexican, since we do not have an Italian Consulate or Embassy, it was necessary for me to go to Los Angeles, California, for a longer stay Italian visa, lasting one year. This I did in early December and once it was obtained I was “free” to fly to Rome, which I did I Thursday the 12th of January this year.
All needed visa and travel document information is available online. For longer stays, such as I am making now, a more complicated “soggiorno” document is needed, obtained once one here is and also has a visa in hand. I wish obtaining of the soggiorno was as simple as it might sound in this brief essay, but it tends to be a drawn out and complex adventure. But people do it all the time!
Returning to discussion of the nearby language school, the Scuola Leonardo de Vicini, it is about a fifteen minute walk from Sant’Ambrogio and very near the church called the “Chiesa Nuova,” (New Church), though it fact, like most churches in Rome, is very old! The Chiesa Nuova is on the busy “Corso Vittorio Emanuel,” a thoroughfare that leads right to the Vatican. Fortunately there are many pleasant side streets between Sant’Ambrogio and the da Vinci language school, so reaching there can be done without the noise or traffic of the Corso Vittorio Emanuel.