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
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
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………..
- Life in a Christian Monastery, ca. 585 (hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com)