As I wrap up my book tour in Italy, I regret that I was not able to get up to Norcia to visit the monks. Tonight I am staying with a young Catholic family that has been greatly blessed by their friendship with the Norcia monks. The father of this household has even become a Benedictine oblate. So many Italians I’ve met look to the Monks of Norcia as a stronghold of true faith and stability in this difficult time in the Catholic Church’s life.
Then it hit me: so many of you US Catholic readers have expressed either in comments or in private emails to me your determination to withhold donations from your local diocese for a time, in protest of the bishops’ behavior in the abuse scandal. You know, though, that you have to tithe. God expects it, and it’s the right thing to do.
Why not tithe to the monks of Norcia? As you’ll recall, their monastery crumbled in the 2016 earthquake. They have relocated to the mountainside near the town, and are working on a permanent home there. They intend to build an earthquake-proof cloister. From their latest fundraising letter:
The Monks of Norcia Foundation, a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization, has already received donations and pledges toward the building project, but still has a long way to go to reach the goal. For their part, the monks are also contributing to the funds needed to build through the profits earned from Birra Nursia sales and royalties from their 2015 music album “Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia.” We need 1 million euros to raise the frame and infrastructure of the new monastery building, which will be equipped to house at least 30 monks so that the community can grow.
Seriously, folks, if you are planning to withhold your regular tithe to your diocese for the time being, why not redirect it to the Norcia monks, who are the real deal? They are a light for the whole world. Please think about making a donation — or sign up for regular donations. You know how much I care about them, and esteem them. If you want to give confidently to help build a Catholic future you can believe in, the Monks of Norcia need your help.
Here’s how The Benedict Option ends:
The Benedictine monks of Norcia have become a sign to the world in ways I did not anticipate when I began writing this book. In August 2016, a devastating earthquake shook their region. When the quake hit in the middle of the night, the monks were awake to pray matins, and they fled the monastery for the safety of the open-air piazza.
Father Cassian later reflected that the earthquake symbolized the crumbling of the West’s Christian culture, but that there was a second, hopeful symbol that night. “The second symbol is the gathering of the people around the statue of Saint Benedict in the piazza in order to pray,” he wrote to supporters. “That is the only way to rebuild.”
The tremors left the basilica church too structurally unstable for worship, and most of the monastery uninhabitable. The brothers evacuated the town and moved to their land up the mountainside, just outside the Norcia walls. They pitched tents in the ruins of an older monastery and continued their prayer life, interrupted only by visits to the town to minister to its people.
The monks received distinguished visitors in their exile, including Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi and Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican’s liturgical office. Cardinal Sarah blessed the monks’ temporary quarters, celebrated mass with them, then told them that their tent monastery “reminds me of Bethlehem, where it all began.”
“I am certain that the future of the Church is in the monasteries,” said the cardinal, “because where prayer is, there is the future.”
Five days later, more earthquakes shook Norcia. The cross atop the basilica’s facade toppled to the ground. And then, early in the morning of Sunday, October 30, the strongest earthquake to hit Italy in thirty years struck, its epicenter just north of the town. The fourteenth-century Basilica of St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, fell violently to the ground. Only its facade remained. Not a single church in Norcia remained standing.
With dust still rising from the rubble, Father Basil knelt on the stones of the piazza, facing the ruined basilica, and accompanied by nuns and a few elderly Norcini, including one in a wheelchair, he prayed. Later amateur video posted to YouTube showed Father Basil, Father Benedict, and Father Martin running through the streets of the rubble-strewn town, looking for the dying who needed last rites. By the grace of God, there were none.
Back in America, Father Richard Cipolla, a Catholic priest in Connecticut and an old friend of Father Benedict’s, e-mailed the subprior when he heard the news of the latest quake. “Is there damage? What is going on?” Father Cipolla wrote.
“Yes, damage much worse,” Father Benedict replied. “But we are okay. Much to tell you, but just pray. I am well, and God continues to purify us and bring very good things.”
The next morning, as the sun rose over Norcia, Father Benedict sent a message to the monastery’s friends all over the world. He said that no Norcini had lost their lives in the quake because they had heeded the warnings from the earlier tremors and left town. “[God] spent two months preparing us for the complete destruction of our patron’s church so that when it finally happened we would watch it, in horror but in safety, from atop the town,” the priest-monk wrote.
Father Benedict added, “These are mysteries which will take years—not days or months—to understand.”
Surely that is true. But notice this: the earth moved, and the Basilica of St. Benedict, which had stood firm for many centuries, tumbled to the ground. Only the facade, the mere semblance of a church, remains. Because the monks headed for the hills after the August earthquake, they survived. God preserved them in the holy poverty of their canvas-covered Bethlehem, where they continued to live the Rule in the ancient way, including chanting the Old Mass. Now they can begin rebuilding amid the ruins, their resilient Benedictine faith teaching them to receive this catastrophe as a call to deeper holiness and sacrifice. God willing, new life will one day spring forth from the rubble.
“We pray and watch from the mountainside, thinking of the long three years Saint Benedict spent in the cave before God decided to call him out to become a light to the world,” wrote Father Benedict. “Fiat. Fiat.”
Let it be. Let it be.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.