Abt Christian Feurstein, 1958-2017

Abbot Christian in his days as Prior of Heiligenkreuz

Of your charity, pray for the repose of the soul of Abbot Christian Feurstein, O.Cist., former Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria, who died last night after a long struggle with heart disease. Abbot Christian was a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz before being postulated as abbot by the monks of Stift Rein. For many years he was prior and novice master in Heiligenkreuz. He was my novice master, and I will be eternally grateful for kindness and patience in leading me into the monastic life. Every day for a year the other novices and I had lessons on the Rule of St. Benedict and Psalms from him. I’m afraid that I may have been a somewhat trying disciple. “It befitteth a master to speak and teach,” St. Benedict teaches in the Holy Rule, “and it beseemeth a disciple to hold his peace and listen.” But I had come fresh from the disputatious atmosphere of the great books seminars of my college, and was accustomed to speak and argue, while a tutor held his peace and listened. But if Pater Christian found me trying, I never knew it; his patience with me was boundless.

The novices of ’06-’07 and ’07-’08 with Novice Master Pater Christian, Abbot Gregor, and the Subprior of Stiepel, P. Jakobus. The author of this blog is in the back row on the far left.

He was not a man of great speculative brilliance, but he had a deep experiential wisdom from a life of fidelity to Christ. He was great example of true monastic humility. I do not think that I have ever met a more humble man. “The seventh degree of humility,” St. Benedict teaches, “is not only to pronounce with his tongue, but also in his very heart to believe himself to be the most abject, and inferior to all.” I remember Pater Christian telling us about some renowned intellectual giving a talk at Heiligenkreuz’s priory in Stiepel, in the Ruhr Valley (P. Christian was one of the founding monks of that priory). The intellectual was talking about how the seventh degree of humility is terribly bad, and that a healthy person has to have self-esteem etc. P. Christian tried to defend St. Benedict, but was unable to convince the intellectual. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew that the seventh degree of humility was good. I think that he knew it con-naturally, because he had attained it in his own life. In recounting this story, P. Christian laughed. He had not, you see, attained the tenth degree of humility, for he was very prompt to laugh.

Abbot Christian (second from left) at his Abbatial Blessing in Stift Rein

He was postulated as Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria in 2010, the year that I took solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz. Once when I visited him there he was preparing to go officiate at a funeral in a nearby parish. Someone else told me that the abbot was constantly doing funerals in that parish, since the parish priest there, a monk of Stift Rein, was “too busy.” It was typical of Abbot Christian that despite the many burdens of his abbatial office he did not think himself too busy to help out in parishes. In 2015 he resigned as Abbot of Rein on account of his heart condition, and returned to Heiligenkreuz. He suffered much through his long sickness. After a stroke that followed one operation he was unable to speak. But he could still smile. He died last night in the hospital with a number of the confrères praying the commendatio animae  at his bedside. His body will first be taken to Stift Rein, where the Bishop of Graz-Sekau will sing a requiem for him on March 21st, and then his body will be taken to Stift Heiligenkreuz where the Requiem and burial will be on March 24th.

Requiescat in pace.

Ferdinand Rebay

The Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) had been a choir-boy here in Heiligenkreuz, and after his death a great many manuscripts of his compositions were entrusted to our music archive. My confrère, P. Roman, and the musicologist Dr. Maria Chervenlieva-Gelew have been bringing some of those compositions to light. A few of them, including the Ave Maria embedded above, were sung at conventual Mass here on November 15th, the Feast of St. Leopold, by the Wiener Schubertbund. Rebay’s music strikes me as being suffused by a deep sadness.

Mariazell Again

Yesterday I returned from another walking pilgrimage to Mariazell, this time with the seminarians of the Leopoldinum. The Leopoldinum makes the pilgrimage every year, and takes only three days. The first stage is quite long, so we began before sunrise. It rained hard the first day, but the weather kept getting better after that. We took a slightly different route this time. We spent the first night up on the Unterberg, where I got to celebrate Mass in the lovely little wooden chapel.

Pilgrimage to Mariazell

Last week I took part in a four-day walking pilgrimage to Mariazell with a large part of our community. Many of us had walked to Mariazell with groups from the monasteries parishes or elsewhere, but it was the first time that the community as such made such a walking pilgrimage. The occasion was the year of mercy. Many of us had received new assignments, and it was a good opportunity to entrust them to Our Lady.

There are two main routes to Mariazell from Vienna: the Via Sacra, which is the oldest route, and the Wiener Wallfahrerweg. We took the Wiener Wallfahrerweg, which is supposedly more scenic, as it is more mountainous and goes through less densely populated areas. It is however the “more challenging” route, as the Mostviertel Tourism Office puts it. This made it a real penance for those of us who spend most of our time in doors. On Tuesday there was torrential rain, and we took the steepest ascent from Kaumberg to Kieneck. We completely exhausted when we reached the cabin at the top of Kieneck. But entering that warm cabin after the cold and wet outside was like going to Heaven. This is perhaps one of the main reasons for walking pilgrimages: to remind us that we are in via toward the heavenly city. “If they had been remembering the country from which they came, they would have had oc­casion to turn back; but as it is they long for a better one, that is, the one in heaven.” (Hebrews 11:15-16)

Mariazell is the most important Marian shrine in Austria. The name “Zell” comes from a cell built by a 12th century monk of Sankt Lambrecht to house a statue of Our Lady after a boulder was miraculously split. The “cell” is still vaguely visible in the marble construction in the center of the Church. Mariazell is in the Southern Austrian province of Styria, but near the border to Lower Austria. Growing up I lived for some years in Gaming, which is just on the Lower Austrian side of the border. We often visited Mariazell.

Leopoldinum

After a year as curate in the parishes of Trumau and Pfaffstätten I have returned to Heiligenkreuz to assume the duties of Vizedirektor of the Überdiözesanes Priesterseminar Leopoldinum.

The Leopoldinum is the place where diocesan seminarians who study theology at the Hochschule in Heiligenkreuz live. It was originally established by Bishop Rudolf Graber of Regensburg (author of Athanasius and the Church of Our Time), as part of an institute for the renewal of priestly formation known as the Opus Summi Sacerdotis. After Bishop Graber’s death it was called Collegium Rudolphinum. It remained under the care of the bishop of Regensburg, but also accepted ever more seminarians from other dioceses. But in 2007 the then bishop of Regensburg decided to bring all of his seminarians to Regensburg, and to end involvement in the Rudolphinum. At that point it was decided to turn it into an inter-diocesan seminary, and to rename it the Leopoldinum, after St. Leopold III, Margrave of Austria. Today it is under the immediate care of the abbot of Heiligenkreuz, and is supervised by a permanent commission of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference—the three members of the commission are the Archbishop of Vienna, and the Bishops of Graz and Sankt Pölten.

There are currently 35 candidates for the priesthood living in the Leopoldinum. The Direktor is Martin Leitner, a diocesan priest and alumnus of the Hochschule in Heiligenkreuz. As Vizedirektor I will be “supporting the Direktor in his work,” as the statutes put it. If my readers would say a prayer for me as I begin this new officium I would be most grateful.

Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

The video embedded above shows the Mass of the Assumption in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, during which four of my confrères made their solemn profession of vows. The Assumption is the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches, and it is very often the occasion of vows. During the glorious liturgy I thought back to the first time that I witnessed solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Assumption day of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. It was then that I decided to enter Heiligenkreuz myself. And, of course, I thought back to my own solemn vows on Assumption day of 2010. Each subsequent Feast of the Assumption has been for me a renewal of joy and gratitude at being a monk of this abbey. Continue reading