These lucid conferences on the spiritual life were given at the Holy Family Hermitage in Bloomingdale, Ohio, in 1986, by a former veteran missionary who became a Camaldolese Hermit of Montecorona, and died in 1996. The welcome publication of these Conferences makes available to Catholics in every walk of life the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Saints of every age by one with long experience of the monastic life and the Rule of St. Benedict. It constitutes a remarkable rediscovery of what has well-nigh disappeared from the praxis of American and other Western Catholics - namely, a moderate but firm asceticism essential to a deepened interior life- one continually open to the graces of the Holy Spirit.
The Conferences revolve around "the spirit of silence", both interior and external: silence of the eyes, silence of hearing, silence of taste, silence of appetite, silence of touch, silence of the memory and imagination, silence of the intellect and will, silence of self-esteem, and silence from external noise and distractions. The "spirit of silence" is that of genuine Christian mortification of the body and its senses in order to imitate Christ's sacrificial way of life, to achieve purity of heart, to prevent disordered passions from dominating the person, and to "silence all voices which do not come from God". It is the "silent man" (whether monk, hermit, or layman) who is "able to listen to the Holy Spirit and to follow His inspiration".
In brief and concise Chapters, our Camaldolese author shows how the life of contemplative prayer typified by the charism of St. Romuald, founder of the hermitage of Camaldoli in Italy in 1024, can, in fact, be easily applied to the busy life of modern lay people. It may be added here that those Catholics who have been impressed by the spirituality of the Eastern monastic tradition surviving in Eastern Orthodoxy, will find Romualdian-Camaldolese spirituality particularly attractive. As Prof. Joseph H.J. Leach of the University of Melbourne noted:
"Even though St. Romuald taught within the Western Church and his tradition is carried on within that Church, the way of life and style of prayer that he promoted owes more to the traditions of the East. In fact, he seems to have incorporated an Eastern style of monasticism into the Western Church... It is not perhaps unreasonable to describe St. Romuald as an Eastern Father in the Western Church. This was recognized by Dante who linked Romuald with St. Macarius, one of the Desert Fathers, in his 'Divine Comedy'
'Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
Here are my brothers who kept steadfast hearts
And planted their feet within the cloister walls'.
[Paradiso 22, 49]
Through St. Romuald (952-1027) and the Camaldolese, the experience of the Desert Fathers is part of the living tradition not only of the Eastern Church but also of the Western Church and a powerful common tradition. It is no surprise then, that the Camaldolese have been actively involved in the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Indeed, as a tradition established in the undivided Church, the Camaldolese have never accepted that they have, in fact, been split from their brother monks in the Eastern Churches."
("Theandros", Vol. 6, no. 1, Fall 2008)
Our Camaldolese author shows intimate acquaintance with the difficulties encountered by people overwhelmed by the comforts and seductions of the modern world and does not hesitate like the Desert Fathers and the Saints (and unlike those writers fostering a counterfeit spirituality that ignores the doctrine of original sin), to note the:
"cosmic struggle between Christ and the devil, between good and evil. [It] is a vital reality and we must make our own choice. Either we are with Christ, or we are against Christ, with all the consequences... The devil is at work. He has conquered many allies, many cooperators, and the means of communication, in order to contradict the voice of God and the voice of the Church. Also, the voice of our consciences is dulled. Indeed, we can see the fruits of the devil's action in the world and on the human face of the Church."
This necessary mortification of soul and body is demanded by Our Lord's Gospel but it is subordinated to "the primacy and preeminence of Christian love above all other things".
In his comments on the "silence of the intellect", he makes some astute observations particularly apt for proud and rebellious souls caught in disobedience and dissent. They have need for:
"acceptance of and submission to the Magisterium of the Church. Another danger for our intellect, apart from error and prejudices, is the attitude of pure intellectual curiosity which engages in the study of sacred truths as a purely scholastic pursuit, instead of seeing them as truths by which one lives. Lucifer indeed knows very much about God and theology, even more than we all together, but he does not live accordingly - he has no love, he even hates God and us."
This small volume is replete with practical and sensible advice for living a life of holiness not only for the Camaldolese brethren to whom he delivered his Conferences, but for the ordinary layman who will find himself in spiritual continuity with ancient Desert Fathers, medieval monastic reformers, and modern Saints.