APRIL 26, 2004




In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

Contemplatives bring grace to local church

Dear Sisters and Brothers:
The Masses and the Divine Office for the week after Easter Sunday all speak of these days as one continuous day – a day of eight days, the great day of the Lord’s passing from death to new life.

During the Easter week just completed, I had the grace of extending my own observance of the Easter feast by celebrating with two of the contemplative communities that have houses in our Oakland Diocese.

On Easter Wednesday, I offered Mass for the Carmelite Sisters in Kensington and visited with them after my breakfast; on Easter Thursday, I joined the Camaldolese monks of the Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, for Vespers and supper.

Since these visits were such a bright part of my personal Easter rejoicing I want to share them with you.

Let’s start with the Incarnation Monastery and begin with a few points of background. The Incarnation Monastery is located on the north side of the UC-Berkeley campus, in the hills overlooking the Bay. It is an ideal setting for a house of studies for the monks. The Incarnation Monastery is a sister-community to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, which is perched on the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, with a stupendous view of the ocean.

The men of these communities are part of the family that traces its roots back to St. Benedict himself. Their distinctive place in this family comes from the fact that the members follow St. Benedict’s Rule according to the reforming vision which St. Romuold introduced into the Tuscan Monastery of Camaldoli in the eleventh century.

A notable element of their lives is that the monks may live in community or as hermits, passing from one form of monastic life to the other, with each group supporting the other.

There were five monks and myself together for our Easter Thursday celebration: the three monks who ordinarily live at the Incarnation Monastery, a student-monk from Northern Italy, and the prior of the original Grand Camaldoli. After we prayed Vespers, we shared a simple Italian meal.

It was a great occasion to learn more about the spirit and practice of the Camaldolese monks, to hear about the day- to-day life of these monks in Berkeley and to offer my expression of encouragement and gratitude for the graces they bring to our local Church.

The monastery of the cloistered Carmelite Sisters in Kensington is dedicated to Christ the King. It sits high on the side of the hills above El Cerrito, and it, too, has a breathtaking view of the Bay. The Sisters are, for the most part, long-time veterans of the cloister, but there is a new recruit, with the prospect of one or two more on the way.

For many of us, what we know of the Carmelite Sisters comes from our acquaintance with the life of St. Theresa of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.” And, of course, the Sisters’ great model is St. Teresa of Avila.

Theirs is a vocation of total consecration to contemplation, together with penance and intercessory prayer for the Church and the world – especially for priests.

The daily Mass in the Sisters’ chapel begins at 6:45 a.m. On my Easter Wednesday with them there were also seven or eight of the lay faithful present. The Sisters tell me that they treasure both their regular visitors and the many persons, some of other faiths or no faith, who come at various times to share in the peace that emanates from their Eucharistic Lord.

After my breakfast I visited with the Sisters in their grilled parlor. I find it remarkable what a great interest they have in the life of the diocese and in my own ministry. It is a profound comfort to me that we have the support of their prayers as we seek to live out our vocations in the world.

At the beginning of my column I mentioned that I saw in these two visits a very fitting way to prolong my celebration of Easter. To explain that, I want to quote a verse from the Epistle for Easter Sunday: “Your life is hidden now with Christ in God” (St. Paul to the Colossians, 3: 3).

The Camaldose monks and the Carmelite Sisters are powerful signs that through Baptism all of Christ’s disciples have received a share in His own risen existence, and this has become our “really real” life.

Yes, we go about our ordinary affairs, much like our neighbors. There’s home and work and school and leisure, and all the business and undertakings associated with getting through a day.

However, within all of these activities, we are living out the gift of new life – a life invisible to the world — which Christ lives in us and which we, with Christ, give back to His Father, who has first given it to us.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose… to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come” (n. 916) – the glory of Christ’s risen life “hidden now in God” until it will be manifest at the end of time.

My hope in sharing my experiences with you is that you, too, will find inspiration from the lives of these monks and nuns to live faithfully the new life we were given in Baptism.

I also ask that you pray for these brothers and sisters, and for all the women and men who live out the consecrated life of the Gospel counsels in our diocese. Pray that they be faithful to their calling, which is essential to the life and health of the Church.

Pray that those whom God is inviting from our families and communities to take up this “hidden life” will have ears to hear and hearts generous enough to answer “yes.”

Pray especially that the contemplative communities in the East Bay will flourish because we need them for our local Church to flourish.


Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.