Saint Rafael Arnaiz Baron’s life was extraordinary by any standards. He lived amid the tumult of the Spanish Civil War, a fervent young Spanish man who had to come to grips with his artistic talent and his passion for God. Trained in art and architecture, Rafael wanted to be a Trappist but was obliged repeatedly by war and illness to withdraw and then try again. He left personal reflections of a man intent on giving his life to God despite all obstacles. At the young age of twenty-seven, he died in the infirmary of the Abbey of San Isidro, less than five months after his fourth entrance.
Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu was born in 1914 and entered a Cistercian monastery near Rome where she lived the silent and hidden life of a Trappistine nun. In 1938 she was inspired by God to offer her life for the cause of Christian unity, taking to heart chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ priestly prayer “That all may be one.” That same year the symptoms of tuberculosis manifested themselves, and Maria Gabriella died of this disease after fifteen months of suffering. Pope John Paul II, when proclaiming her “blessed” in January 1983, also named her Patroness of Unity.
The Atlas Martyrs: In the early hours of March 27, 1996, twenty armed members of an extremist group raided the peaceful monastery of Tibhirine, in war-torn Algeria, and kidnapped seven of the nine monks who lived there. Caught up in a negotiation to free imprisoned extremists, they were held for two months, then killed. For years, the monks had lived in harmony with the Muslim people in Algeria. They served the poor and the needy in the area, providing education, employment, and medical assistance. They leave behind them a message of love and forgiveness.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a monk of the Cistercian order, was born in 1090. One of the great figures of his age, he travelled and preached widely; Cistercian abbeys were founded all over Europe. He left many writings which included his famous treatises on humility, on the love of God, on grace and free will, and his masterpiece on the Song of Songs. He was not only a compassionate, thoughtful man, not only a scholar devoted to the Bible and to the works of the Fathers, but a Christian of extraordinary vision and faith. To him God’s healing power, God’s love, and our acceptance of our own weakness, were central to the message of Christ.
Read his letter to the parents of one of the novices in his Abbey
Thomas Merton (1915-68) Although not a Saint he’s a well known Trappist monk, author, and peace activist. He came to international prominence at a young age with his classic autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Over the rest of his life he wrote prolifically on a vast range of topics, including prayer, interior growth, social responsibility, violence, and war. Toward the end of his life he played a significant role in introducing Eastern religions to the West. He is today regarded as a spiritual master, a brilliant religious writer, and a man who embodied the quest for God and human solidarity in the modern world.