Category Archives: Benedict of Nursia

A Word on Prayer

When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station,

we do not presume to do so

except with humility and reverence.

How much the more, then,

are complete humility and pure devotion necessary

in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!

And let us be assured

that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7),

but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.

Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,

unless it happens to be prolonged

by an inspiration of divine grace.

In community, however, let prayer be very short,

and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.

On Reverence in Prayer – Rule of St. Benedict


There are countless books written on prayer. How to pray? When to pray? Why to pray? Who to pray for? Nearly 1500 years ago the monk “Benedict “gave us a short paragraph that shed light on these questions. Let’s us look at his suggestions to his fellow monks, and I dare say, to us.

First, we are humble in our approach to people we wish to help us. We seldom get help when we are very haughty towards those who could easily help us. Benedict notes that when we approach persons of high station (money and power,) we do it with reverence and humility. Simply stated, our wants are wrapped with respect and deference. We do not approach people preaching at them about what they owe to others because they as so blessed by God.

prayer-conversations-with-god

Second, he reminds us that we owe abundantly more respect and deference to God when we approach Him. Let’s not go to God quoting the “ask and receive” verses that we find so handy when we need something. We tend to use these verses to force the hand of God. He will not be forced.

Third, many words will not impress God, especially when they are uttered publicly so as to impress those around you who hear them. Such words ring hollow in the ear of God.Prayer-9-20-17

Fourth, prayer should have purity of heart and emotion bearing repentance. When prayer bears these characteristics, it is pure and worthy of the ear of God. Benedict suggests that prayers ought to be short and pure.

 

 

God calls for prayers that are reverent and non-attention getting.


Prayer

Lord, remind me that you deserve my reverence and respect no matter how dire my present need may seem. Let me pray to you and learn to wait patiently for your answer. Relive me of the temptation to pray with many words to impress others and to wear you down.

Amen


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Prayer Hints

 



 

If we would approach men who are in power with humility and reverence, when we want to ask a favor, how much more must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and pure devotion? Remember that it is not for many words, but for the purity of our heart and tears of remorse that we are heard. For this reason, prayers ought to be short and pure, unless they are lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short, and the sign having been given by the Abbot, let all rise together.

—-Benedictine Rule

The quote I use today is from the Rule of St. Benedict. This rulebook for the monastic life was written by Benedict around 530. Benedict created the rule at a time when the Roman Empire had collapsed in the West, and Europe was being overrun by barbarian tribes.  Christianity in Europe appeared to be about finished. He gathered together some faithful men and women who wanted to preserve a remnant of the faith for the future. That scenario is eerily similar to  our own day.  Today’s Christians are out numbered and declining. We would do well to look to the wisdom of Benedict the monk and his rule of life. Using his rule I offer a few hints about prayer.

Humility

When we pray we should be aware of whom we are addressing.  We would never presume to be demanding on someone who we respected and admired ,then how much more should we come to God with great humility. An attitude of humble prayer is not demanding or presumptuous. A humble prayer is prayed with the full awareness of who we are and who HE is. A humble prayer is reverent and respectful and presents itself in a spirit of devotion. A humble prayer is set forth in the form of a plea to a merciful God who loves us. Humility is a key factor is our prayer life.

Simplicity

Jesus said, “ When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Somewhere along the way we were given the impression that prayer must be fanciful or lengthy to be valid. This attitude has bred self righteousness  in some and fear in others. Because of this attitude there are those who never want to pray and other who enjoy the platitudes that they receive for their “well said” prayers. We are urged to go to God with a pure heart and words that are real to us.

Brevity

God is not impressed by prayers that are prayed for the sake of an audience and not really to Him. Most of us have experienced showy and lengthy prayers at a church or a study. We then ask ourselves, was that for God or prayed to impress us?

God cannot be goaded into answering prayer. Praying all night will not force God to answer your prayer. Benedict saw prayer as a normal part of your day. The monks prayed in the morning and then went about the work of the day. Later they assembled again for prayer and after went about their work. Prayer was not long and drawn out but a continuous part of their day.


Prayer

Lord, lead me to a life of humility.  Help me to understand how and when to pray. Protect me from my ego and let me see your love. Give me the courage to praise you wherever  I am and to know that you are there.

Amen

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DAILY WORK

Benedict of Nursia delivers his rule to the Be...

Benedict of Nursia delivers his rule to the Benedictines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 48

Idleness is the enemy of the soul, and therefore the brethren ought to divide their time between manual labor and devout reading. In the summer then, they should go out at dawn for four hours, to do the necessary work, and then spend two hours reading. Then, after lunch, let them rest in bed in complete silence — or if anyone wants to read for himself, let him read quietly enough not to disturb others. [Reading silently to oneself was almost unheard of.] If, however, the needs of the place, or poverty should require them to do the work of gathering the harvest themselves, let them not be downcast, for then they will be true monks, living by the work of their hands as our forefathers and the Apostles did. However, on account of the faint—hearted let all things be done with moderation. Above all, let one or two of the senior monks be appointed to go about the monastery during the reading time, and look out for any lazy brother giving himself over to idleness or vain talk, being unprofitable to himself and disturbing others. If — God forbid — such a monk is found, let him be punished on the first and second occasions. If he does not change, let him come under the correction of the Rule in such a way that others may fear

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Fullness of Life

And the Lord as he seeks the one who will do his work among the throng of people to whom he makes that appeal, says again: Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity? And, if when you hear this you say, I do, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit, turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things my eyes will be upon you and before you call upon my name I shall say to you: Behold, I am here. What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lord’s invitation to us? In his loving kindness he reveals to us the way of life.

—-Benedict of Nursia


Today I share a few thoughts from The Rule of Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s main achievement is his “Rule of Saint Benedict” containing precepts for his monks. The Rule has a unique spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness, and this persuaded most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages to adopt it. As a result, his Rule became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism. Let me share a few thoughts from him about fullness of life.

Who wants to live a full life? The answer is everyone. The problem with fullness of life is where does it originate? Some would say that the key is to be rich or well educated, others would say it comes from being physically fit and strong.

Be honorable and truthful with your words.

Benedict admonishes us to be attentive God’s to call in order to keep our tongues from evil. An evil tongue constantly stirs trouble and wishes ill will to others. The evil tongue never stops looking for the negative in the lives of others. The evil tongue can be very truthful, but it uses truth as a sword to destroy rather than an instrument to build up. Such a tongue is dishonorable.

The second thought is to not be deceitful. In short, tell the truth and don’t make up tall tales to benefit yourself or bring down others. The truthful tongue builds you and all those you touch. Your words will outlive you and bless others.

Do Good

Doing good is the biggest challenge of our earthly existence. We are surrounded by schemes and schemers. The whole concept of Monasticism was to be free fJohn-Wesley-July-12rom the pressures of the world and grow closer to God. Good is first sought when we dedicate all that we have and that we are to God. John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” By putting Benedict and Wesley together we can broaden our hope for doing good in our lives. Doing good is a key element to any Christian journey, and I urge you to take some time to assess the good you do or can do.

Seek Peace and Practice It

Benedict said to “seek peace and pursue it.” I would assert that a person who seeks peace will find it and spend a life of peaceful practice. The first challenge is to dedicate our lives to finding peace. The ultimate peace is a sound relationship with God. Through that relationship all problems can be faced and many solved to our good. Without God we are on our own and fending for ourselves in a world that is far too complicated for us ever control. As we Jesus-july-12practice the peace of God we find that our problems far less complicated, our victories are sweeter and burdens lighter. Jesus said, ”Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When we attach ourselves to the yoke of God we find His peace and that peace is one that we can practice with joy.

May we seek the life that God has laid up for us and pursue it with all our being.


Prayer

Lord instill in me the humility to seek you and the courage to find you. Allow me the strength to follow your lead and live a life that is beyond my imagination. I ask for the life that only you can provide. I ask for discernment this day and courage for each day that I follow you

Amen.

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RULE OF LIFE

Note: I am not sure where I got this document, but it has been in my files for a long tome. I’ve taken the liberty to make a few changes from the original. This rule would make for a good way to observe Lent.

This Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.  IB

A RULE OF LIFE

PRAYERS

· We will pray daily

· We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of Examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation.

· We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

· We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves

· We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces

· We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission

GIFTS

· We will honor and care for the gift of the earth and its resources, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity rather than excessive consumption

· We will practice generosity in sharing our material resources, including money, within and beyond this community

SERVICE

· We will serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for the love of God

· We will practice mutual accountability with a covenant group within the community, for how we serve God and neighbor

· We will practice regular Sabbath as a means of renewal so that we can lovingly serve God and neighbor

WITNESS

· We will practice racial and gender reconciliation

· We will resist evil and injustice

· We will pursue peace with justice

· We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God.

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the world.

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Hospitality and the Church

From the rule of St. Benedict, Sixth Century A.D. “If any pilgrim monk come Benedictfrom distant parts, with wish as a guest to dwell in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds, he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God has sent him for this very thing. But if he have been found gossipy and contumacious in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.

True hospitality to the pilgrim is difficult enough, but dealing with someone that disrupts the community is even harder. The solution proposed by Benedict is quite radical by our standards. Perhaps the 21st century could learn from him. Who knows?

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A Monastic Habit

Note: This is another story from my old friend Becket. I just couldn’t resist this one because he speaks of his relationship with Brother George. That make it special to me because George and I have known each other since high school. I am using a pcture that shows all of us when we had just finished a day at the bakery.

By Becket

In the monastery we were encouraged to have a hobby. Developing a hobby was as important as delving fully into our Benedictine motto: Work and prayer. Work in the monastic life was for the monastery. Prayer was for others. But a hobby was for you, and you alone. An avocation that reflected your vocation. In other words, hobbies brought a human element to the monastic life. A healthy outlet to simply be yourself.

Brother Cadfael started a small vineyard. Father Dominic enjoyed archeology and taxidermy. Abbot Justin had a small green house and he grew a lovely garden. Father Augustine enjoyed bird watching, and he jokingly referred to himself as an “ornitheologist.”

For several months I looked for “my” monastic hobby.

I tried working in the haberdasher shop with Father Ambrose. He showed me how to measure and cut cloth. He showed me how to sew with machine or needle and thread. He was patient and kind.

It was good work. But it was not my hobby.

The abbey sits on 14,000 acres of land. One day I went walking toward the dense woods. I passed the retreat house and the bakery. I passed the early 19th century houses where slaves once lived, long before the monastery bought the land. Finally I came to a large barn where the first monks raised livestock for their daily sustenance.

The barn was large. It had once been red, but the paint was faded and peeling off. Mostly it was being used for storage.

The barn door was locked.

I could peer within and see the shadows of a hobby waiting to happen.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

At that moment, Brother George happened to be passing by. He asked me if I’d like to see inside.

Brother George was the monastic accountant. He was a burly man, over 6 feet tall. His size made him seem intimidating. Some brothers feared asking him for pittance.

But he was a born and bred New Orleanian from the Ninth Ward. Brother George wore his happiness over his monastic habit. Same with his sorrow. You knew where you stood with him by his expression.

That day his cheerful face told me good news: He knew where the key was.

Together we got it and unlocked the barn.

Inside was a treasure trove of forgotten furniture and unfinished projects.

Brother George reminisced how he had once worked in there. How he used to build furniture and coffins.

Why did he stop?

“When your work life loses your prayer life,” he said, “you forget how to be happy.”

I asked him if he’d like to work in the barn again.

His cheerful expression grew even more cheerful. That surprised me.

He and I spent the next few weeks clearing a work place in the barn. Much wood had warped in the Louisiana humidity. But some wood was still good.

Together we separated the good wood from the bad. We began dreaming about what we should build.

It had to be simple. It had to be something for other people.

It had to be a three-peg clothes rack, we decided in the end.

You see: Our monastic cells were simple. Older monks had a closet, a toilet and shower, a desk and chair, and a bed. Younger monks had all that – minus a toilet and shower. Ours was communal.

But none of our cells had a clothes rack.

Brother George and I designed one to fit perfectly on the back of the doors.

A professional carpenter would have laughed to see us. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t our profession. It was our hobby. It was good work that reflected who we were far beyond our monastic habits, in the secret chambers of our very human hearts.

We wanted to be like a carpenter from Nazareth. We were children all over again.

Brother George and I set our finished product before the other monastic brothers. They liked our clothes rack so much that we had several commissions.

Soon our work in the barn attracted the attention of Brother Cyril. He wasn’t interested in building clothes racks, although he was searching for a hobby that he could also give back to the brothers.

Brother Cyril began building coffins.

His designs were elegant simplicity: An oblong wooden box for a believer in the resurrection from death.

Brother Martin was buried in one. So were Father Dominic and Brother Gabriel. So were several other brothers. Soon the barn became the carpentry shop. More coffins were made. So were more clothes racks. And many other projects.

Eventually I had to go to school for my MA. I couldn’t work in the carpentry shop any longer. I had to leave my hobby behind to prepare for my future work.

Even now, years after I’ve left the monastery, they’re still making coffins.

The abbey just won a major lawsuit against the state, giving them the right to sell coffins commercially.

I am happy for them.

Yet I cannot forget the condition of the carpentry shop during my novitiate. It had been an old barn. Nothing more. A locked up, forgotten barn. Within which was a shadow of my hobby.

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A Monk’s Story 6

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

MIDWINTER MONKS

By Becket

Monk in prayerChristmas was a beautiful time in the monastery. But it took some getting used to.

In my youth, my family enjoyed the religious aspect of Christmas, but we never celebrated the holiday with the devotion of people in a religious order.

In the monastery, the lives of monks revolved around prayer and work. Both prayer and work were profoundly shaped by the passing seasons. So we monks shaped our lives around the phases of the moon and the falling of the leaves.

In the late fall, the season of Advent began four weeks before Christmas. The word Advent comes from a Latin word, which means “Coming…” The season of advent was a time to prepare for the Son of God “coming” into the world as a baby in Bethlehem.

We monks prepared for the “coming” of Christ in different ways.

Brother Martin spent time preparing a special meal that the monks would enjoy together on Christmas night. Father Peter spent time preparing Brandy Alexanders that we would serve to friends and benefactors who’d come for special visits. Father Matthew and Father Sean would spent time practicing the pipe organ for the new Advent and Christmas music liturgy.

Junior monks like me spent the Advent Season preparing for Christmas by spending each day decorating the abbey.

It began with finding the Christmas tree. The monastery was situated on 1,200 acres of woodland. The junior monks would go out into the woods to hunt for the abbey Christmas tree. There were countless to choose from. The Novice Master would accompany us. We would pack a basket of wine, cheese, and crackers. The wine would keep us warm and the cheese would keep us sober. We would find a tree that would fit perfectly in the abbey common room, where the monks congregated after dinner to talk about the routine of our lives in the silence of God.

The tree always had a wide skirt. The branches were good and strong. The roots were deep. We were thankful to God for the gift of the tree – because the tree had a deeper meaning for us, than just merely seasonal decoration in our monastic home.

We junior monks would share the work of cutting down the good tree. If the vocations had been abundant that year, there could be five of us wielding the ax in turns. If vocations had been slow, I would fell the tree with one other brother.

We would work together to carry the tree back to the abbey.

We’d set it up in the abbey common room, in the corner, where many of us used to sit. We’d have to sacrifice our favorite seats for a month. But the effect was worth the sacrifice.

The good smell of fresh pine suffused the common room by the first day. The scent would stay in the room long after the Christmas season passed.

The older monks would then take out our collection of Christmas ornaments. Some ornaments would be decades old. Other ornaments were as old as the turn of the century. Some belonged to a few brothers. Others had been donated. Some of us junior monks would make our own ornaments, leaving our mark on forthcoming Christmas seasons.

We would wrap the tree in multicolored lights and then hang the hodgepodge of ornaments. We would listen to carols, and sometimes those of us who sang in the schola cantorum would sing along. We could sing motets. We could chant. Christmas chants were beautiful in Latin.

We’d either top the tree with a star or with an antique angel ornament.

Once the Christmas tree was finished, the junior monks would decorate the trees lining the front walkway, leading from the cloister to the church.

At the base of each tree was an electrical outlet. We’d wrap up the trunk with a string of white lights. Then we’d wrap each branch in many strings of white lights. The abbot wanted us to make the lights look like “luminous berries” on the bough.

We would wrap the trees in such a way so that the white lights look like bright white berries.

The church bell would chime and draw us to our monastic prayer services.

The sun would have already set by the beginning of Vespers.

Our abbot would lead the whole community of brothers down the walkway, from the cloister to the church. We’d walk in silence, hearing only the shuffling of our feet in formation.

We’d pass between the “luminous berries.” The twelve trees were beautiful in the nighttime. We’d be surrounded in their gentle light. It could feel like an enchanted grove.

Our evening prayer service would be a period of praying and watching the waning daylight in the windows dim to darkness. Yet the light of the trees still shone.

During Advent, in our liturgy of hours, we would chant about biblical heroes like John the Baptist and the Angel Gabriel.

But once we were three weeks into the Advent Season, on December 17th, we would begin chanting what we called the “O Antiphons.”

These antiphons always began with an “O”: “O Tree of Jesse”, we’d chant. “O Star of David,” we’d chant. “O Israel,” we’d chant, and so on.

We chanted the O Antiphons until December 24th, when it became proper to change our prayer, from coming, to receiving.

The O Antiphons were a summons: We monks were summoning the higher power we believed in. We were begging God to come again and bring with Him a Kingdom of peace and justice and goodness and love.

By December 24th, we stopped summoning. We began full on worshiping the King we believed came to us in complete poverty, and spent his first night on earth, lying in a box where sheep and cows ate their supper.

As monks, we could relate to that poor child. We had no possession. We had no money. We didn’t even have heating in the abbey church.

We had only our work and our prayer. Our work was our prayer while our prayer was our work. And our working prayer / praying work sincerely sought to be like the baby who grew into the carpenter who’d died on a tree.

You see: The lights we wrapped during Advent were for Christmas. It wasn’t right to view them merely as electric lights wrapped around branches, simulating luminous berries. It wasn’t right to simply view the tree in the common room as a merely commonplace Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree lights, the lights around the walkway trees, they were spiritual lights guiding us toward our true goal, which wasn’t wine and cheese and Christmas trees, or luminous berries and O Antiphons.

Rather, the lights of the trees were like the nail marks on the Cross: The lights were reminders of the good things to come.

In the end, the Advent Season was not only about our belief that God was “coming” closer to us. We believed that we were coming closer to Christmas, we were coming closer to a higher power who loved us very much, for we believed that the true meaning of Christmas was the Divine Face becoming human while our human faces became divine.

We saw the divine image in Brother Gabriel who loved looking at the Christmas lights, and in the smile of Brother Martin when his Christmas turkey came out right. We saw the divine image in Brother Simon when he wrapped a tree particularly well, and in Father Sean as he sublimely played Bach’s Wachet Auf on the pipe organ.

Yes: Our work was our prayer while our prayer was our work.

And through both we could glimpse the divine image in one another during Christmas time, not because we did anything important in the history of the world, but because we did the small things that helped one another feel appreciated, needed, and loved.

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A Monk’s Story Part 3

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 3

by Becket

At the heart of every religious vocation is the call to love. Love one another as we are loved. Sometimes love is prayer. Other times it’s work.

Before I entered the monastery, I don’t think I loved myself. Sure, I had a healthy hope of survival. But that’s not the same as healthy self-love. To be perfectly blunt, I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t. I didn’t know who I was. How could I love someone I didn’t know? This question begged another: If I don’t love myself, how can I love someone else?

Before the monastery, I didn’t fit in. In high school I clique-hopped. Early college too.

I couldn’t do that in the monastery. There were no cliques. There was only a small group of men working everyday to be kind to one another.

So my first year in the monastery was the quintessential pivot-point of my life. It shifted me from self-ambiguity to healthy self-love.

St. Joseph Abbey Church

As a novice I had to have a spiritual director. Usually this is an older or more experienced monk acting as a guide to monastic formation.

One monk in particular I hoped would be my spiritual director, Fr. Ambrose. He was elderly, wore large glasses, and had a long white beard. He was always reading, always quiet. He seemed to have an appealing grandfatherly kindness.

So I was greatly shocked when, upon asking him to be my spiritual director, he said, “No.”

Later I came to know him better. Today I believe he denied my request because all he truly wanted was to diminish before his brothers. That is, he wanted a more hermetic life. Quiet, simple.

A brash novice like myself was a thunderclap in his serenity.

Despite my disappointment, I returned to him twice more.

Finally he consented. I became his spiritual directee.

Quickly I discovered that he and I had different personalities, and that we appreciated different ways of communicating. Nevertheless, he proved to be the best spiritual director I ever had, and one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As my religious brother, he observed me in community, at meals, at recreation, and during prayer and work. As my elder, he called me on many faults. “A monk must let go of the world,” he would tell me. “You’re thinking too much about temporary things on earth and not about the heart of eternal love.”

The greatest fault he caught in me changed me life. He saw my great fault. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. You could say that from my youth I was taught to behave in a particular way. It wasn’t bad behavior. It just wasn’t healthy. Fr. Ambrose saw that how I was was not who I could be. And he said to me in so many words: “Whether you stay a monk or get married, whether you make monastic vows or wedding vows, you can’t give to anyone else something you do not possess. And healthy love is a possession that must by its very nature be given away freely.”

What didn’t I possess, Fr. Ambrose?

“Your self,” he said to me.

The true journey of my monastic vocation began at that moment.

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A Monk’s Story Part 2

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 2

by Becket

I am continually humbled that some of you are interested in my monastic life. Some have asked that I continue with my story. I still feel awkward doing this (forgive me), but I will give it a go.

I left off talking about adjusting to the Gregorian chant. Monastic life was a mystical adjustment altogether.

My first year in the monastery was called the novitiate. I was a novice. (Still am a novice in many ways.)

Daily life was similar to a normal monk in solemn vows. We all worked together. We all prayed together.

In the beginning the work I did was mostly cleaning: Kitchen, bathrooms, church, and abbey. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, the usual sprucing.

I also worked in the bakery two days a week. One of the monastery’s charitable works was baking bread for the inner city of New Orleans, then

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery. (several years ago)

delivering it to soup kitchens. In the summer we awoke at 2 am to bake bread. We finished by noon, before the Louisiana heat struck. We baked over 800 loafs a day.

Fr. Augustine was chief baker. He taught me how to bake all kinds of delicious breads. Sometimes he and I would bake pizza for the monks for lunch, a kind treat for them.

One night a week was special. The monastery had an infirmary, where sick and dying monks ended up. One night a week, I would keep watch over the infirmary, staying up all night, being attentive to the needs of the infirmed.

An old priest was there, Fr. Daniel. He was so gentle, especially toward the end, when he passed away the night before I became a monk. I spent the year of my novitiate trying to make him comfortable. But he didn’t need much. His prayer life had given him faith that he would be in eternal rest.

All our work was not beyond the scope of our prayer life. Everything we did – be it cleaning, baking bread, or watching the infirmary – had to be done with a prayerful spirit. We tried to depend on God’s help for everything, especially the work of our hands.

But not all prayer revolved around work. We also had community prayer.

All the monks would gather into the church five times a day for five routine prayers: Matins, Lauds, Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

Matins is a predawn prayer (5am). Lauds is Morning Prayer (6am). Mass was at noon. Vespers is evening prayer (5pm). Compline is night prayer, right before bed (7pm).

During community prayer, the monks divided into two groups: Choir One and Choir Two. Choir one was on the left side of the church; Choir Two on the right; both groups facing one another.

Then the two choirs of monks would take turns chanting the psalms and other biblical texts, each choir chanting a stanza. We chanted all 150 psalms in a month’s time – like the early monks from the 5th century.

Our day began with prayer. Our day ended with prayer. Chanting biblical words bookended our daily work.

Work and prayer. It was a life of labor and love. It was a life of simplicity.

More to come………..

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Monasticism, Prayer