FR. DENIS ROBINSON: What am I currently reading? Ah, that's a very interesting question.

BR. ZACHARY WILBERDING: OK, alright, right now I am reading Broken Harbor by Tana French.

TONY CECIL: Catholics Confronting Hitler, The Catholic Church and the Nazis.

BR. SIMON HERRMANN: The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton.

FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB: I usually have about five books going.

ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: and I'm currently reading a book called Finding Happiness.

FR. COLMAN GRABERT: I am an absolute sucker for mystery novels.

FR. GAVIN BARNES: I've read Gone with the Wind every year since 1969.

BR. KOLBE: Hi, I'm Br. Kolbe.

BR. JOEL: And I'm Br. Joel. You're listening to Echoes from the Bell Tower.

BR. KOLBE: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in southern Indiana.

BR. JOEL: The monks of Saint Meinrad love to read, and this episode we're going to discuss everything that they're reading, fromlectio divinato academic reading to table reading.

BR. KOLBE: You're probably thinking "lectiowhat?"Lectio divinais spiritual reading and there's time for it built into our daily schedule as monks.

BR. JOEL: Yep, there's a period in the morning ... which realistically seems to be taken up more by breakfast and getting ready for the day … and a period in the afternoon, after Evening Prayer, before supper. Some monks also get up super early before Morning Prayer, so they can start their day withlectio.

ARCHABBOT KURT: It's a habit. It's a discipline. Like most disciplines and habits, the more you practice it, the more disciplined you become with it and you actually look forward to it many times. 

BR. KOLBE: So what exactly islectio divina? Archabbot Kurt and Fr. Harry break it down for us.

ARCHABBOT KURT: Lectio divina is one of the oldest traditional practices of a monk. It is taking a book, very often the Scriptures. Sometimes it's a religious novel or another kind of serious book. It's getting to know the book. It's spending time with the book.

FR. HARRY HAGAN: I teach a course inlectio divinaand I define it as reading typically the Word of God and expecting to hear God say something to you. So it's this idea that the Bible is not about people a long time ago, but is a Word that continues to live and to speak to us and to ask us questions. I think lots of people, they think that the Bible is supposed to tell you exactly what it was or is or how high to jump or something like that.

But it seems to me that the Bible is really a book that confronts us with reality, and that should cause us to see new things, to ask new questions, to look to see how our love could be larger and bigger and more encompassing than the little box that we have grown used to.

BR. KOLBE: Like a lot of reading, the hardest part aboutlectiois opening the book. But how is it different from other reading? Here's Abbot Kurt.

ARCHABBOT KURT: Most of us, we pick up a book and we start it, and we go through page 1, 10, 12, 30, all the way to the end, and then put it away, and might even say something like, "Wow. It only took me a week to read that" or "I got through that in much faster than I thought."

Our way of reading is just the opposite.Lectio divinais trying to let the book catch us, instead of us catching the book. If you heard one of us say, "Well, I put my 45 minutes in inlectiothis morning," and I asked, "Oh, how much did you read?" first of all, that's the wrong question to ask. The better question would be, "And what happened?" or "What did you learn?" or "What struck you?

Because for a monk to say, "I spent 45 minutes inlectio this morning and I read three pages," that could be very, very fine. For him to say, "I read one page," that could be very fine. For him to say at the extreme, "I was the third sentence into the first paragraph and this thing just jumped out at me, and I kind of stayed with that for the rest of the time," that's the kind of reading thatlectio divina is. It's reading that catches us and wrestles with us until we can find the meaning or the meanings that are in the text.

FR. HARRY: Part of thelectiois reading things over and over. And reading them not just this year, but reading them next year and reading them last year and 10 years before or 10 years from now. And so that there kind of builds up this sense in which you are shaped by these words - not that you exactly know how. I mean it's not altogether a kind of an intellectual or rational kind of piece, but that they become part of you and make you, we hope, a better person that is able to be full of the grace of God without your really knowing it.

BR. JOEL: As we read, we stop and think about anything that catches us and we ask ourselves how this connects to other things in our lives. Then after we've made those connections, we sit quietly and sometimes we have something we want to say or ask God.

FR. HARRY: But sometimes prayer is basically the way in which we carry on our relationship with God. So sometimes when we carry on relationships with other people, we talk to them and sometimes we just sit there and we just enjoy being with the other person and it's not terribly complicated.

BR. KOLBE: Basically,lectiois one way we carry on a relationship with God. Another type of reading you see in the monastery is table reading. This happens during our main meal. Here's Fr. Gavin Barnes.

FR. GAVIN BARNES: It's a custom, something we've inherited as a part of our monastic tradition, passed on from mother abbey to, you know, the other abbey and again passed on down.

BR. JOEL: Table reading is mentioned in theRule of St. Benedict. In Chapter 38, it says, "Reading will always accompany the meals of the brother." (38.1)

BR. KOLBE: It also says, "Let there be complete silence. No whispering, no speaking; only the reader's voice should be heard." (38.5)

FR. GAVIN: It was a way of, I think, engaging with each other without a high social kind of level. It was also a chance again to be in touch with the Word of God through the day and in the early days, as it is required in theRule, the reading took place at all of the meals.

BR. JOEL: We have talked about table reading in a couple other episodes, but Archabbot Kurt will give a rundown on how we do table reading here at Saint Meinrad.

ARCHABBOT KURT: In the table reading, we start off with some things that are important for us as a community to hear.

BR. KOLBE: We always begin with a section from theRule of St. Benedict.

ARCHABBOT KURT: This can be a section of 30 words. Sometimes it goes on to 100 words. What this means is that three times during the course of a year, all of us at table are hearing theRule of St. Benedict. Again, after the gospels, that's our most important document. That's our foundational document.

BR. JOEL: After we read theRule, we read a section of the Martyrology.

ARCHABBOT KURT: As it turns out, tomorrow we commemorate the conversion of St. Paul, so there is a little commentary on that, usually a minute, minute and a half, just reminding us of the importance of St. Paul and the nature of conversion. Again, it's something we all hear. It's a little Christian re-education.

BR. KOLBE: The third thing we read is the necrology. We talked about this in our last podcast episode about monastic funeral traditions. You may remember this clip from Fr. Julian Peters …

FR. JULIAN PETERS: There is one, "Brother was known as a kind and jovial man who spent most of his life working in the wine cellar." Of course, everybody chuckles, because he was kind and jovial because he was working in the wine cellar nipping at the wine. There are those human angles. Those pieces do live on.

BR. JOEL: Those pieces live on in our daily table reading. The necrology simply talks about monks who have died on this day, who they were and what they did during their life here at Saint Meinrad.

ARCHABBOT KURT: Again, it's a family kind of thing, so we try to do not just information but try to put a little honest local color in there just to remind ourselves of maybe what some of the extra joys or not-so-joyful parts about living with this particular monk were. We try to do that, of course, in good faith and in good cheer.

BR. KOLBE: After the necrology, we read a book. Sometimes it's a spiritual book. A lot of times, it's a biography or history book. One of the great advantages of table reading is the wide diversity of materials you are exposed to over the years. Here's Fr. Gavin.

FR. GAVIN: I couldn't begin to tell you how many different types of reading that I've been subjected to during my 70-something years. I remember there's one book especially that the people who were here and heard it still talk about as being the most important book that they were exposed to in table reading and that is theNicholas and Alexandra.

BR. JOEL:Nicholas and Alexandrais a book by Robert Massie about the Romanov family. Massie became interested in the Russian imperial family when his son was born with hemophilia, a disease Nicholas' son suffered from.

FR. GAVIN: So he carried through in his study with the family and fell in love with the family and was compassionate about their destiny and their outcome and the tragic ending. And so he wrote the book. A rather sizable book, I think it must push 800 pages; it took a whole summer for us to read it. But people would do anything to keep from missing one of the episodes.

BR. JOEL: As with most things in the monastery, there are some stories about table reading that have been passed down through the years.

FR. GAVIN: We had two readers years ago; I remember that one followed the other. One, his name was Walter and the other one's name is Rudolf. And whatever we were reading, there was always a Rudolf and always a Walter in the reading. And of course it was appropriate to each week. When Rudolf was reading, it was Walter that was in the reading and vice versa for the next week. And everybody caught on to that, of course, and that was a little giggling behind the hands and so forth.

And then of course there was the famous one when the reader was describing some action in the woods. The hunter was out. And he described the episode quite dramatically and he said, "Suddenly he raised his shotgun and shot the abbot." Well, the text said "the rabbit" and it was clear that was what the text said and everybody roared. So there are the funnies that come every once in a while.

BR. KOLBE: Table reading is a way for us to nourish our mind and heart and soul while we nourish our bodies. It's a way to relax with each other. Here's Abbot Kurt.

ARCHABBOT KURT: A lot of times after a meal, people will talk about what they just heard or, "What do you think about the book today?" It's just one of those very subtle but effective ways of developing relationships and carrying on communication.

BR. JOEL: We've talked about common reading in the monastery, table reading. The school has common reading, too. Every spring during Lent, Fr. Denis Robinson, the president-rector of the Seminary and School of Theology, assigns a book for the seminarians to read.

FR. DENIS: So in the past we've done some interesting things. We've used, on the one hand, papal documents, the writings of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. We've also used fiction. So for example, we hadThe Boy in the Striped Pajamasone year.

BR. KOLBE: Fr. Denis will pull out some of the themes from the book and base his rector conferences during Lent on those themes.

BR. JOEL: What is a rector's conference?

FR. DENIS: Several times each semester, the rector has an opportunity to give a formal presentation to the seminarians on various aspects of formation.

BR. KOLBE: Common reading in the seminary has several benefits. First, it broadens the perspective of students and helps them see beyond the walls of the seminary. Here's Fr. Colby Elbert. He graduated in 2017.

FR. COLBY ELBERT: Two years ago, it wasThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas. This last year it was theGlobal War on Christianity. And both kind of stories can become topics of conversation and I think kind of get us reading material that I think he sees might be missing from our formation or something that we're neglecting and kind of widens our view a little bit.

BR. JOEL: Second, common reading helps build community by having a common point of conversation.

FR. DENIS: In other words, if everyone's reading the same thing, it provides the opportunity for informal conversation aside from my rector's conferences. We study very serious, in-depth things in the seminary, but we don't create a purposeful environment for discussing those things outside of the classroom. So this gives us an opportunity to do that.

BR. KOLBE: There are seminarians here spread across six classes or the six years of study, and everyone is reading the same book. This creates more opportunities for conversation with guys from different classes. Here's Tony Cecil. He will be a fourth-year theology seminarian in the fall.

TONY CECIL: I think really, it's an opportunity to not only learn, but it's an opportunity for us to build community through having those really substantial, meaty discussions about a topic. Last year's was the persecution of Christians. So, something going on right now, kind of getting those different perspectives. Just because, being in class with the same guys is great but, but it also limits you to whose perspectives you're getting. So, that really creates an opportunity to broaden your horizons on opinions and thoughts and everything.

BR. JOEL: Both Tony and Colby say Fr. Denis and their professors are preparing them to be life-long learners through common reading.

TONY: A lot of professors here say: a priest shouldn't get ordained and then never pick up another book the rest of his life. So, I think it gets us out of the mode of reading just for class. There's a lot going on in the world and we need to be connected with that. We also just need, sometimes, to take a break from that and read something different that's still related to what we are doing, but is something that we, otherwise, wouldn't have approached probably.

FR. COLBY: I don't know. I think it kind of puts this image out there, too, that we're asked to continue to be readers. I think you can get a lot from books that you would not otherwise get from day-to-day life. I think of the Gospel message. Jesus all of the time is telling all of these stories, and I think every story always has a moral even if the moral is just nonsensical in and of itself. I mean that says something about human nature and human beings.

BR. KOLBE: As you can see, common reading helps build community in the seminary and monastery. It broadens our perspective and, as students, it gives us a break from all that academic reading. So how much reading do the students do?

FR. DENIS: When I was doing my doctoral work, it was kind of a rule of thumb that you need to do between 500 and 700 pages of reading a day. I know our students do not do that. I think we did a little study recently that said they had about 50 pages of reading a day and so do they do that? I don't know.

BR. JOEL: Here's Colby again, along with Fr. Kelly Edwards, who also graduated in 2017. They had a conversation back in November 2016 about academic reading.

FR. COLBY: I remember Fr. Denis, our rector, saying that he would expect a seminarian to read 1,000 pages a week for all of their different classes. It's interesting because, when you factor in all of the things I read in the course of a day, whether it's emails, diocesan newspapers, letters, things here and there, I'm sure it does equal thousands of pages, you know.

FR. KELLY EDWARDS: The emails at least are 500.

FR. COLBY: I read as much as I believe I can. I don't read 1,000 pages a week for class, though.

FR. KELLY: We probably get assigned a couple hundred pages a week at least, if you totaled everything up.

FR. COLBY: I remember having a counseling session with Sr. Diane when I was first here, I'll be a little transparent, and she just looked at me and I was really trying to do everything and she's like, "Colby, you can't read it all." And I realized at that moment, especially with my varied interests and as much as I like to do, I had to come to that realization that I can't build a Tower of Babel here.

At the same time, like discerning what to read has been a big part of my formation and what's important and what is something that I can skim through and what's something I need for my own kind of just interests and kind of enjoyment I think has been a big part of my formation.

FR. KELLY: A lot of the stuff is like, "Oh man, I'm almost sad that I have to read it quickly now." Especially in our sort of more core classes, ecclesiology, Christology, trinity, you know, classes like that.

You know we get 100 pages assigned a week out of that class, but I mean I want to sit down with that book and, you know, spend a month in my holy hours reading it. I don't want to read all of these three chapters for tomorrow. So that's kind of a tension that we get a lot.

BR. KOLBE: Reading is just a small part of formation at Saint Meinrad. Let's be honest, seminarians learn the art of skimming.

FR. COLBY: Again, that's just a quarter of formation. We still have to do spiritual reading. We still have to progress as human beings and learn how to be good men and …

FR. KELLY: Go to ministry.

FR. COLBY: Go to ministry and do things like that; learn how to be a pastor. You know you can learn so much from books, but at the same time, too, I mean I like to think that the wood chop can teach you a lot.

I heard a quote one time that wood and stone teach you what books can't. And I think there's something very experiential about some of the practices we get involved with here that get us outside of the book and get us into real situations that we could probably write books about ourselves.

FR. KELLY: For how much extra academic stuff that's involved in seminary, we probably get an amazing amount of reading actually done.

BR. JOEL: Seminarian formation really comes together when reading and real-life experience connect.

FR. COLBY: You know you can tell me how to be a pastor, you can tell me you know how to solve this theological problem, but what does that mean to somebody in the parish? What does that mean to somebody who's really struggling in life? Putting those two things together sometimes is really where our formation kind of really starts to take place.

BR. KOLBE: The last type of reading we want to talk about is liturgical reading.

BR. JOEL: Liturgical readings, the reading we hear at Mass and the Divine Office, are the backbone of our faith. The way our liturgy is set up, we hear large parts of at least three of the Gospels every year, year after year. Here's Abbot Kurt.

ARCHABBOT KURT: They're so important to us that they're part of our soul or they're part of our ears. You know, we hear the first few words and we could go on and pretty much finish out the text, incidents such as when Jesus calls the disciples, or incidents such as when Jesus forgives sin, or so many of the parables, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan. Again, we're monks, but there's always the challenge of how can I be a Good Samaritan to those around me, especially to my fellow monks?

BR. KOLBE: The liturgy begins with Advent and basically moves you through the important moments in the life of Christ. Here's Fr. Harry.

FR. HARRY: And so that really forms the structure for the spiritual life. This is what the Church gives us so that we can enter into the life, the mystery of Christ, particularly his birth, death and resurrection.

And the liturgical readings, they are what create that movement and help recreate those events for us so that we can enter into them. And so knowing the liturgical readings and preparing them, trying to be open to them when they are read to us, that is the way in which we enter into this celebration of the mysteries of Christ's birth, death and resurrection.

BR. JOEL: It is important for us to be able to receive the Word of God, but it's also important for us to be able to proclaim the Word well.

FR. DENIS: When Jesus comes among us, we read in St. John's Gospel, he comes among us as the Word with a capital W. And so a solid ability to receive and proclaim that Word becomes the essence of our discipleship.

BR. KOLBE: Proclaiming the Word is much more than reading at Mass. Tony Cecil explains.

TONY: The Church holds that the liturgy is the most important thing that we do and that everything that we do flows out of it and comes back to it. So, the Word of God, who is a person, Jesus. That's what we're about and that's who we are. Everything that we do is for Him and because of Him.

So, in the seminary, I think proclaiming the Word has to be so much more than just in chapel. I think it has to do with how we welcome guests, how we interact with one another, and how we live our lives, and how we live our lives as men of integrity. Patterning ourselves after the image and the example of Christ, who is the Word. So, I think proclaiming the Word, it can be very narrow, but I think it needs to be very broad like that.

BR. KOLBE: Fr. Gavin used to teach how to proclaim the Word in the Seminary and School of Theology. In fact, when Tony was a college intern for the One Bread, One Cup liturgical leadership conference, Fr. Gavin was his teacher. Fr. Gavin's advice to his students begins with "get the sound out."

FR. GAVIN: Get the sound out. Which means basically, fundamentally, open your mouth and use your tongue, teeth and lips to form sounds that we readily recognize. And if you can do that, we're well on the way to communicating meaning from the text to the audience or congregation.

BR. JOEL: If you don't get the sound out, the people in the congregation will miss the text that forms the structure of our spiritual life.

FR. GAVIN: Certainly, if there's anything that deserves our attention and careful examination and exercise, it is the Word of God. See that's the remarkable thing about the proclamation in the liturgy, we believe that is the Word of God coming to us. The Vatican decree on the liturgy says that Christ is present during the liturgy in various ways and one of them is through the Word.

Now we're not just reminded of Christ, Christ the text says is present. We believe that Christ is present in that Word. That's why if you can't hear the Word, it's for nothing, you know. As I say, it's for the cat.

BR. KOLBE: Sometimes you hear the Gospel called the Living Word. Once a seminarian is ordained a transitional deacon and he begins preaching in a parish, he experiences that firsthand. Here's Colby. He was preaching 10-14 times a week while serving at a parish during his summer as a deacon.

FR. COLBY: I was preaching a lot and I had to really stay committed to reading scripture and the gospels for the day. And I really found that every time I read the Gospel, it's not necessarily changing, but I'm changing and seeing it in a different way. And I found that, unlike other academic books that we read, unlike other leisurely books, I really think the Gospel and the scripture and as much as it's the Living Word, is really alive and telling us something and really does show us something that matters to us in that moment.

FR. KELLY: About a year ago I decided, "Well I'm going to read the whole thing, read the whole Bible." I've read the New Testament through a couple of times, but to approach that as a whole document has massively opened my eyes to sort of the richness of scripture. I haven't finished it yet, so there's still some time but …

FR. COLBY: It's a cliffhanger.

FR. KELLY: I think I know how it ends, but it's already having and will continue to have a really profound effect on my approach to the Church, to preaching, to really the whole Christian mystery. To really approach at a basic level this giant book that we pull from that's so rich has been an immense blessing.

BR. KOLBE: Thank you for listening to our episode today about living in the Word. This episode was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.

BR. JOEL: A special thanks goes to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Fr. Harry Hagan, Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Colby Elbert, Fr. Kelly Edwards, Deacon Tony Cecil and the late Fr. Gavin Barnes.

BR. KOLBE: We have one more episode planned for this spring and we're collecting audio for our episodes that will air this fall. If you have enjoyed Echoes from the Bell Tower, tell your friends and subscribe to it on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

BR. JOEL: And if you want to listen to past episodes or learn more about our podcast, visit I recommend listening to our very first episode on the bells of Saint Meinrad.


FR. GAVIN: One of the most wonderful moments in performance is when your audience is absolutely quiet. When there is not a cough, there is not a rattle, there is nothing. Then you know you've got them.