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Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today Paperback – July 1, 1992

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A disaffected Catholic, photojournalist Bianco blamed God for his son's 1984 death in a car accident. Lengthy stays at Trappist abbeys in the U.S. and France triggered painful memories of his son but taught the author to yield to God's love and to accept loss. Although the monks become Bianco's heros, he paints them in very human terms. Dom Stephen feels lonely as abbot, cut off from the informal give-and-take with his brothers that nourished his monastic existence. Brother Leo resents the Vatican II reforms that abolished his lay brother vocation. Critical of the abbey's accessibility to Bianco as well as to women retreatants, Father Bede of Gethsemani in Kentucky was an abandoned child raised by excessively strict foster parents. While he was fighting in WW II, his fiancee died in childbirth and his son was put up for adoption. One day, a woman retreatant grieving for a father suffering from cancer turns out to be Father Bede's granddaughter. Seekers of all faiths will be intrigued by and gain respect for the contemplative life as portrayed in these pages. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Bianco, a photojournalist and former Maryknoll seminarian, lived for periods of time in various Trappist monasteries in the United States and France, interviewing the monks freely and taking candid photographs. While not the first time that a non-monk was allowed to live with the Trappists and write about it--Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary (Doubleday, 1976) records his stay at a Trappist abbey--it is probably the first time a lay person was allowed such intimate contact. Bianco shows a journalist's care for setting misconceptions straight (silence is a practice, not a "vow"), and for openly presenting what he experienced, both good and bad. The monks come across as men who are no less human for having chosen a life that is so unusual. Though he has respected the monks' privacy by changing some names and locations and presenting some composite portraits, Bianco has nevertheless presented an intimate look at a much misunderstood life.
- Augustine J. Curley, O.S.B., Newark Abbey, N.J.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (July 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385424302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385424301
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,001,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend this book for several reasons. None of them have to do with giving the public a picture of what really goes on behind closed doors at a Trappist monastery. If your only interest in Trappist life is some voyeuristic urge to know the secret life of monks, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.
The review that suggests that Bianco's book isn't an accurate picture of Trappist life doesn't make much sense to me. Bianco's assignment was to go to several Trappist monasteries and write about what he found there. His writing is crisp, and I am sure he would say he relayed the facts as he witnessed them.
There is a more important reason to read Bianco's story of his time amongst the Trappists. Bianco went to the monastery to do his job as a reporter, showing voyeurs what monks really do in that cloister. What he encountered in the monastery was an unexpected connection with his hidden brothers in Christ who prayed out their lives "known only to God." More importantly, Bianco encountered a God who loves him intensely and used his experience with the Trappists to bring him through a profound grief to a place of peace and security in his life. I suppose his journalistic detachment and objectivity slipped a bit in the telling of his story.
If Bianco had emerged from his time with the Trappists unchanged, I would have been disappointed. He tells an important story with courage and sensitivity, and we are the richer for his efforts.
If you really want to know what life in a monastery is like, go spend time in one. St. Benedict's rule still requires the reception of visitors, and all the Benedictine foundations I know have made terrific provisions for those seeking times of recollection. If you to hear what happened to Frank Bianco when he went through the cloister gates, read this book.
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By A Customer on January 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
I recommend this book to those who find themselves on a spiritual journey. Having glanced at other reviews of the text, I agree that it is less a general introduction to the Trappist way of life and more of a documentary of the author's personal exploration of their spirituality. This exploration is in the context of the loss of his son; the tragedy is actually the impetus for his spiritual quest. In that sense, I believe readers that are similarly engaged will find the book much, much more meaningful and accessable than those who may be reading out of detached academic interest.
More than anything, I think the book provides a great insight into the charism of the Trappists Mr. Bianco lived with, and for anyone considering spending some time "off grid", it sheds a lot of light on the potential experience. If you are on the journey, or perhaps more accurately, engaged in the battle, I think this book will help.
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Format: Paperback
The author, a semi-practicing Catholic dealing with the death of his youngest son, entered into the life of the Trappist monks in several monasteries. From that experience, he gives us a mixture of monastic history, of lives of selected (composite) monks discerning their calling and growth, and a picture of the issues confronting the religious community as they grapple with the issues raised by Vatican II.
The resulting book stresses several points:
Monk are human with the same foibles as the non-vowed Catholic population.
That a major component of what sets monks apart is the stability of their lives and the community in which those lives are lived; this results in an environment where confronting oneself and one's masks is inevitable.
That balance of work, play and prayer is essential to fostering wholeness.
That the monk's life is nearly a universal human activity and that much of what formerly distinguished the professed religious life is now adopted/adapted by dedicated laity.
That God truly works in mysterious ways - exemplified by the author's changed understanding of God as he finally confronts his son's death.
The genius of the book is that it achieves the list given above primarily through the narrative of human experience within the monastic community. Where more abstract theology/history is provided, it is generally within the context of conversation with individual monks presenting their individual experience and belief.
With the narrative, there are individuals that the reader comes to care about - the crusty, rigid Br. Bede, the Texas ranch boy Mac, the novice Gabriel ... Through these and many others, the reader catches glimpses of themselves and their own needs. In this sense, the lives of the monks as presented, serve as a mirror nudging the reader to examine themselves as the monks are examining themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't read this book unless you're prepared to handle the cold, hard truth about the spiritual life and monks who make it their profession. It isn't easy and it isn't abstract, and monks will be the first to admit, that for all their honest effort, they fall on their faces just as this book reveals in fascinating detail. More than one monk took the time to praise this book "as a major contribution to the understanding of modern monasticism." Those are the words on the book's back cover, written by the Washington Post's respected columnist and critic, Coleman McCarthy, who was once himself a Trappist. Better yet, consider what Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., onetime Benedictine Abbot General, wrote about the book: "Frank Bianco brings monks to life in his book and lets the human and the spiritual shine through. Most graciously he shares with the reader his own spiritual transformation that resulted from encounters with monks, men whose lives are devoted to seeking God." A Trappist Master of Novices recommended this book to me while I was living at his abbey for an extended period, trying to come to terms with my marital problems. I saw for myself how the book was right on target. The spiritual life is all about finding God as he offers himself in the day-to-day, seemingly ordinary people and events, which is what the author learned. It's not for anyone who's trying to hide from life. To his credit (and to the reader's benefit ultimately) the author submitted himself to the life just as an ordinary monk does. He wanted to learn why God brought him to the monastery seemingly by accident and why he was able to regain his faith by opening himself as monks do - to what only seems to be ordinary in everyday life.Read more ›
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