By Fr. George Welzbacher
July 6, 2008
By proclamation of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, The Year of St. Paul has begun. From the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, which we celebrated this past Sunday, June 29th, 2008 until the solemn observance of this feast once again in June of 2009, faithful Catholics throughout the world are asked by Pope Benedict to honor the Apostle of the Nations by setting aside a few minutes each day for prayerful reading of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament, and by praying earnestly each day for what St. Paul held so dear- the conversion of the world to Christ, beginning with ourselves, with the choices that we make each day.
A page--or two--each day? Is that too much to ask? A deep familiarity with the Scriptures is after all a powerful weapon that will arm us well in our daily combat against the devil, who uses the disordered solicitations of the world and of our own chaotic appetites to seek to lure us to our destruction. And whether we like it or not, this age-old enemy of God and of God's image, Man, has declared a truceless war against each one of us, a war that will end, in victory or defeat, only with our death. Therefore only a fool will refuse to make use of the weapons that God provides.
St. Paul, who in the millemial iconography of Christian art is often depicted standing and holding a sword, is so depicted for a reason. Or rather for two reasons: the sword reminds us that his final witness to Christ came outside the walls of Rome through his beheading, the more dignified form of execution proper to one who held the privilege of Roman citizenship, as St. Paul did; and his standing with drawn sword reminds us that we are called by Christ to stand in battle against the evil one. And in that battle the sword that will help to bring us victory is-the word of God. If it's victory that we want, we will take up this weapon. May I cite the passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (6: 10-18) in which he elaborates the imagery of the well armed soldier of Christ. St. Paul's admonition, with its military metaphors, is a transformation of another image to which Christ had recourse when He was tempted by Satan:
"Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Deuteronomy 8:3). Here are the words of St. Paul: "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all of the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit .... with all perseverance keep alert...."
May these words be our inspiration and our guide as we prayerfully begin this Year of St. Paul.
* * * * *A suggested prayer for daily recitation during this year of grace is reprinted here.
A Prayer to the Apostle Paul
Glorious St. Paul, Most Zealous Apostle,
Martyr for the love of Christ,
Give us a deep faith,
A steadfast hope, a burning love for our Lord;
So that we can proclaim with you:
"It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
Help us to become apostles
Serving the Church with a pure heart,
Witnesses to her truth and beauty
Amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God, our Father:
"To Him be the glory, in the Church and in Christ,
Now and forever."
* * * * *That our profoundly secularized culture today--secularized and sterilized-is unable to satisfy the deepest longings of our souls is gently attested by --surprising at least to the secularist---the surprising popularity of Gregorian Chant, music of spirituality and prayer bestowing a peace of soul that the noise of the world cannot give. I thought you might be interested in the following account from the New York Times, issue of June 26.
Sacred Songs Sell, Drawing Attention to Their Source
By Mark Landier
From: The New York Times of Thursday June 26, 2008
As noon draws near, the monks glide into the church, their white cowls billowing behind them. They line up in silence, facing each other in long choir stalls. Wood carvings of saints peer down on them from the austere Romanesque nave.
Bells peal and the chant begins-low at first, then swelling as all the monks join in. Tlteir soft voices wash over the ancient stones, replacing the empty clatter of the day with something like the sound of eternity.
Except, that is, for the clicks of a camera held by a photographer lurking behind a stone pillar.
It has been like this since last spring, when word got out that the Cistercian monks of the Stift Heiligenkreuz, deep in the Vienna woods, had been signed by Universal music to record an album of Gregorian chants.
When the album, "Chant: Music for Paradise," was released in Europe in May--and shot to No. 7 in the British pop charts, at one point outselling releases from Amy Winehouse and Madonna--the trickle of press attention turned into a torrent. (The CD will be released in the United States on Tuesday.)
Now this monastery, where the daily rituals of prayer and work have guided life for 875 years, finds itself in a media whirligig at once exhilarating and unsettling for its 77 brothers.
"We're monks," said Johannes Paul Chavanne, 25, a Viennese who entered the monastery after studying law and is training to be a priest. "We're not pop stars, and we don't want to be pop stars."
Too late: the album has made the monks of Heiligenkreuz a crossover hit, the latest example of how Gregorian Chant, a once-neglected 1,000-year-old part of the Roman Catholic liturgy, can be repackaged for a secular society that savors its soothing, otherworldly cadences.
Heligenkreutz---the name means Holy Cross -Has put one of its more worldly monks, Karl Wallner, in charge of public relations. When not in prayer, he spends his days fielding calls from reporters as far away as New Zealand. His cellphone, its ring tone set to chant, sings constantly.
"I'm like a shield around my community," said Father Waliner, who has been a monk for 26 years. "There was a lot of concern at first that this would destroy the serenity of the monastery."
Some monks also worried that putting chants, which are, after all, prayers, into a commercial product amounted to a kind of profanity-----"like using Leonardo da Vinci as wallpaper," in the words of one. For most, those risks are outweighed by what they believe is the music's great potential; to stir feelings of faith in a society that has drifted far from religion.
Still, the making of these latest monastic stars may say more about the way the secular world, thanks to the power of the Internet can penetrate even the most secluded of cloisters.
In 1984, the Benedictines of Santo Domingo de Solis in Spain prompted the last big revival of Gregorian chant with an album that became a phenomenon. More recently the use of chant on the popular video game Halo has piqued interest.
Eager to get in on the trend, Universal's classical music label took out an advertisement in Catholic publications, inviting chant groups to submit their work. Finding another ensemble like the Benedictines was going to be a long shot, the label's executives figured.
"Not all monks want to enter into a commercial relationship because that's not what thev spend their days doing," said Tom Lewis, the artist development manager in London for Universal Classics & Jazz.
But the advertisement was spotted by the grandson of a monk from here. He tipped off Father Wallner, who, in addition to his pubiic-relations duties, runs the monastery's theological academy and its Web site.
"An Austrian monk would never know what Universal Music is," Father Wailner said. "We were chosen by divine providence to show that it is possible to have a healthy religious life today."
Divine providence may have less to do with it than one monk's resourcefulness. Father Waliner sent Mr. Lewis a short e-mail message with a link to a video of chants that the monks had uploaded to YouTube after Pope Benedict XVI visited the monastery last September.
While monks in many monasteries chant, Heiligenkreuz is particularly proud of its singing, which has been honed over years by one of the monks, who used to direct choirs in Germany.
Mr. Lewis was entranced, recalling that the video eclipsed the more than 100 other submissions. "There was a smoothness and softness to the voices that you associate with younger people," he said.
Universal negotiated a contract with the monks, who proved to be anything but naive in the ways of business. It helped that the abbot, Gregor Henckel von Donnersmark, has an M.B.A. and ran the Spanish outpost of a German shipping compay before he entered the monastery in 1977.
Among the clauses he sought: Universal cannot use the chanting in video aames or pop music. The monks will never tour or perform on stage. And Helligenkreuz will earn a royalty based on the sales of the album, which the abbot said worked out to roughly 1 euro per CD sold.
The monastery's share, Father Henckel von Donnersmark figures optimistically could be between $1.5 million and $3.1 million, which it will use to help finance the theological studies of young men from developing countries. So far, Universal has sold nearly 200,000 copies.
"Money is not a source of fulfillment," the abbot said, though he pointed out that it would defray the monastery's expenses, which are high, partly because of its success in attracting novices.
Even before the album, these monks had encountered the world of show business. The abbot's nephew, Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, wrote the screenplay for "The Lives of Others," an Academy Award-winning film about East Germany, while holed up in a monk's cell at Heiligenkreuz, He brought his Oscar back to the monastery, where the monks took turns holding it.
"A place like that can recalibrate your moral compass," Mr. Henckel von Donnersmark said by telephone from Los Angeles. "These people do nothing but think about how to love and serve God."
For now, the monks seem sanguine that they can balance this solitary vocation with the glare of celebrity.
"If the problem becomes too big," the abbot said, "I'll take a plane down to Santo Domingo de Silos and ask the abbot there for advice."