September 21, 2018

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa makes journey of faith from the Philippines to Indianapolis to Rome

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa kneels during a ritual after professing solemn vows on Aug. 15 as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. His hair has been cut in what is traditionally called a corona (Latin for “crown”). Among other things, it is a symbol of the humility at the heart of monastic life. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa kneels during a ritual after professing solemn vows on Aug. 15 as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. His hair has been cut in what is traditionally called a corona (Latin for “crown”). Among other things, it is a symbol of the humility at the heart of monastic life. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

By Sean Gallagher

The young monk stood among his fellow monks in the church where they gather for prayer several times a day, raised his arms in a gesture of humble prayer and chanted a plea to God taken from the Psalms:

“Uphold me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live” (Ps 119:116).

He then humbly knelt and continued the prayer, “And do not confound me in my expectation.”

Moments before, he professed solemn vows before God and his fellow monks to live the rest of his life as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad.

It is a ritual that St. Benedict himself 1,500 years ago made a part of the profession of vows for monks in his Rule for monasteries. Countless monks of Saint Meinrad have repeated it since the 1854 founding of the monastery nestled in the hills of southern Indiana. The religious community was itself founded by monks from Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland, which was established more than 1,000 years ago.

The latest to profess solemn vows at Saint Meinrad is Benedictine Brother Lorenzo Penalosa. He traveled a long journey of faith both physically and spiritually to reach that solemn moment on Aug. 15 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln.

Born in the Philippines in 1991, he grew up in Lucban, a small town in the central part of the southeast Asian island nation.

In 2006, he and his mother crossed the globe to settle in Indianapolis where they became members of St. Joseph Parish. Brother Lorenzo later became an archdiocesan seminarian, graduating from Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis in 2012.

In 2014, he entered the novitiate of Saint Meinrad Archabbey and professed temporary vows a year later.

He described the day of his solemn profession of vows as “one of the happiest days of my life.”

“I couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Brother Lorenzo said in an e-mail interview with The Criterion from his temporary home in Urbania, Italy, where he is studying Italian. “Professing solemn vows was the fruit of years of discernment—in some ways, it was the end of initial formation, yet it was a door to a more serious, lifelong commitment.”

The door through which he walked has now led Brother Lorenzo even further in his journey of faith. This fall, he will live in Rome where he will be a graduate student in liturgy at the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’ Anselmo.

He expects eventually to be ordained a transitional deacon and then a priest, but dates for these steps in his spiritual journey have not yet been set.

Brother Lorenzo has a keen awareness that every step of his journey has only happened through the grace of God, something he said was expressed when he prayed what Benedictines traditionally call the Suscipe (Latin for “uphold”) prayer.

“It was a sober reminder that I can’t do my vows on my own,” he said. “God claimed me as his own when I was baptized, and my profession as a monk is another way God continues to claim me.

“The fact that the monastic community alternated with me in singing the Suscipe was also a reminder that we live out our vows together and not in isolation. We help each other out in the path of holiness.”

Knowing that many Benedictines of Saint Meinrad and beyond who have gone before him have also lived out these vows is an encouragement to Brother Lorenzo.

“Countless monks, nuns and oblates have become holy because of this way of life,” he said. “And Saint Meinrad in particular has produced lots of holy monks who have served the archdiocese as teachers, pastors and humble workers. I couldn’t be any prouder to belong to this awesome tradition.”

He also recognizes how other communities of faith have helped him along the way in his journey of faith. St. Joseph Parish, he said, “was a welcoming family of faith” for him when he first moved to Indianapolis from the Philippines.

“It’s a small, loving parish full of caring people who have continued to walk with me along my vocation journey,” Brother Lorenzo said.

He also recalled Father Glenn O’Connor, St. Joseph’s pastor when he was a member there, as “a great inspiration to me. He is a hard-working priest with a big heart and a sense of humor—a great role model for me.”

Brother Lorenzo also found role models at Bishop Bruté: Father Robert Robeson, its rector when he was a seminarian there, Father Patrick Beidelman, its vice rector then, and the late Jesuit Father Thomas Widner, its director of spiritual formation at the time.

The formation staff and the growing number of seminarians at Bishop Bruté all made it a place that Brother Lorenzo said was “steeped in prayer” in the Liturgy of the Hours, Mass and eucharistic adoration.

“It was great living with many other men, brothers, who were also discerning God’s will and valiantly doing their best to grow in holiness,” he said. “Maybe this formation in daily prayer and community life influenced me in seeking religious life, specifically Benedictine monasticism.”

After graduating from Bishop Bruté, Brother Lorenzo entered into priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology as an archdiocesan seminarian before discerning a call to life as a Benedictine monk.

Looking back, he appreciates his time at Bishop Bruté in which he grew in “an infatuation with the faith.” But the joy he experiences as a monk he says is “more stable.”

“It’s a quiet, enduring peace,” Brother Lorenzo said. “I really can’t think of a better way to describe this than stability. Life as a monk is stable amidst the changing rhythms of life. Because of this, I feel more grounded and full of peace.”

At Sant’ Anselmo, he expects to grow in his love for the Church’s worship that he said was first nurtured in him when he was a young boy in the Philippines.

“I look forward to learning more about the historical development of the liturgy, how we as a Church have worshipped God throughout the ages,” Brother Lorenzo said. “I am also excited to learn more about inculturation—how the liturgy has adapted in different times, places and cultures, adding to the richness of the Catholic faith. I hope that what I learn will help me better share with others my love for the liturgy.”

The people with whom he may share his love for the Church’s worship may later be the Catholics of central and southern Indiana.

“As a monk, I am at the abbot’s and the community’s disposal,” Brother Lorenzo said. “At this point, I don’t exactly know what ministries I’ll be involved in, whether teaching or working in the seminary, serving parishes, giving retreats, or other responsibilities.

“Most of these do involve serving the Church in central and southern Indiana. Regardless, of the work I do, however, this I can promise: I will continue to pray for the archbishop, priests, religious and the people of the archdiocese.”
 

(For more information about Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, visit www.saintmeinrad.org.)

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