Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hail St. Romuald, Abbot, and preserver of his own father's monastic vocation

St. Romuald 
(from Camaldolese monastery in Majk, Hungary.  
It's now a museum, having been nationalized by Communists in 1950)

St. Romuald (951 AD - 1027 AD) was born near Ravenna to an aristocratic family, and during his youth and young manhood Romuald lived as a typical nobleman of his time.    Which means he was not a very holy guy.   When Romuald was 20, his father, Sergius, quarrelled with a relative over land.   To settle the quarrel, the two fought a duel in which Sergius slew his relative.   Romuald witnessed the slaying, and, deeply distressed, fled to the Benedictine monastery in Ravenna to do 40 days of penance for his father's sin.  After the 40 days were up, and against his father's wishes, Romuald decided to remain at the monastery.  Romuald lived in that monastery for 7 years, driving all the other monks crazy with his fervor and austerities.  A few of the crazier monks were even plotting to kill Romuald when he decided to leave the monastery and live as a hermit near Venice.

Under the guidance of a holy hermit named Maurinus, Romuald prayed and practiced many austerities.   Romuald eventually moved with Maurinus to a monastery in Catalonia, where Romuald was soon made superior.  Romuald's reputation for sanctity spread far and wide.   Romuald's example of holiness even inspired his own father, Sergius to enter monastic life.  However, after living as a monk for a while, Sergius started thinking about returning to the world.   When Romuald heard about this, he travelled to his father's monastery and by "exhortations, tears, and prayers" managed to persuade Sergius to remain a monk, which Sergius did until he died "with the reputation of sanctity."

Although Romuald again retired to a hermetic life, his great sanctity caused people to seek him out.   For instance, monks from a monastery near Romuald's hermitage elected Romuald abbot of their monastery.   When Romuald refused this honor, the Holy Roman Emperor Otho III himself travelled to Romuald's hermitage to persuade him to take the job.  The emperor stayed in Romuald's cell overnight, and even slept in Romuald's rude bed, but it didn't do any good - Romuald still refused to serve as abbot.  Only after a synod of bishops threatened to excommunicate Romuald did he agree to serve.  The monks and Romuald quickly regretted this.   Romuald sought to reform the monks with such zeal that they mutinied.   This time, it was Romuald who went to the Emperor.   When he met Otho, Romuald flung his crozier at Otho's feet.   This was Romuald's way of saying "I quit that stupid abbot job you made me take."

Otho' s successor, the Holy Roman Emperor St. Henry II, also heard of Romuald's holiness and wished to meet him.  St. Henry invited Romuald to his court, and Romuald reluctantly complied.  At their meeting, the Emperor had to do all the talking, since Romuald observed a strict silence the whole time.  However, the Emperor understood that Romuald's silence proceeded from humility rather than disdain, and wasn't offended.   The Emperor even told Romuald that "I wish my soul was like yours."  This was high praise, since the Emperor was himself a saint.

St. Romuald died at a monastery in Ancona.  Five years after his death, and again in 1466, the saint's body was examined and found to be incorrupt.  However, St. Romuald's body was stolen in 1480, and afterwards it turned to dust.

St. Romuald founded the order of Camaldolese monks.  These monks have a monastery called New Camaldolese in Big Sur, California which is worth a visit if you have the nerve to drive up the monastery's steep, winding driveway.   Here is the view from the top.

A saying of St. Romuald:

"Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor."

But don't fling your crozier at Him.

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