Tag Archives: Monastery

A Monk’s Story

One day a man from a nearby village called out at the monastery gates, and  handed the old monk who opened it a magnificent bunch of grapes, saying, “Dear Father, I have brought as a gift the finest grapes my vineyard has produced.”

PorterThe monk smiled, “Thank you, I will take them to the Abbot immediately; he’ll be delighted with this offering.” But the villager said, “No, no I brought them for you.”

The old monk didn’t think he deserved such a fine gift. “Oh yes!” insisted the man. “For whenever I come by, you open the gates and welcome me. When I needed help because the crop was destroyed, you shared your meal with me every day. I hope this bunch of grapes will remind you of the sun’s love, the rain’s beauty and the miracle of God, for it is He who made them grow so fine.”

The monk held the bunch grapes. It looked full and luscious. He decided to present it to the Abbot, who had always encouraged him with words of wisdom.

The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, but as he accepted them, he thought of one of the brothers who had been very unwell. “I’ll give him these grapes; they may bring some joy to his life.”

But the grapes didn’t stay in the sick monk’s room for long. He reflected, “Brother Cook has been feeding me such nourishing meals to help me recover. I’m sure he will enjoy these.” As the cook brought him his meal, he presented him with the grapes. “They’re for you,” said the sick monk. “You work so hard; take a moment to sit and enjoy these.”

Brother Cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes, then he thought of the newest entrant to the monastery. He decided to gift them to the youngster as he felt he might be a bit lonely without his family, and also so that he might understand that the work of God is in the smallest details of creation.

When the novice received them, his heart was filled with the Glory of the Lord, for he had never seen such beautiful grapes. Just then, he recalled the first time he came to the monastery, and of the simple old monk who had opened the gates and warmly welcomed him; it was that gesture which allowed him to feel at home in this community of people who knew how to value the wonders of life.

And so, he walked to the monk at the gates. “Eat and enjoy them,” he said. “For you spend most of your time alone here, and these grapes will make you very happy.”

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None is Higher than Hospitality

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, was going to a monastery for a retreat. The monks observed vows of silence and the retreat was to be meditative and prayerful. Nouwen was delayed and was late getting to the Monastery on a verywelcome miserable, rainy night. Upon his arrival, he rang the bell and was met at the door by one of the brothers. He warmly greeted Henri, took his wet coat, took him to the kitchen and made him a cup of tea. They chatted into the late night hours and Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the retreat. He knew this monk was supposed to observe silence, so he finally asked him, “Why are you willing to sit and talk with me?” The monk replied, “Of all the duties of the Christian faith and the rules of my order, none is higher than hospitality.”

The church is a community as well, and hospitality should be a primary focus. Today’s church should be a place of welcome to all who come our way. There should be no connotation that only “rule followers” are welcome at the church. I fear that we have forgotten the concept of radical hospitality and confused it with assimilation into our group. If the church is to practice true hospitality, it must practice inclusiveness. That means no one is barred from total participation in the life of the church. I am concerned that we have lost sight of a most important tenet of Christianity. I thank the monastics for giving us a reminder.

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to remember that the open door of hospitality can have eternal consequences.

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Right in Front of Us

abbotThere is an old story that has often been re-told in especially the Eastern Orthodox part of the church. According to the tale, a devout abbot from a Monastery decided to take a prolonged spiritual retreat in a small cabin located on a remote island in the middle of a large lake. He told his fellow monks that he wanted to spend his days in prayer so as to grow closer to God. For six months he remained on the island with no other person seeing him or hearing from him in all that time. But then one day, as two monks were standing near the shore soaking up some sunshine, they could see in the distance a figure moving toward them. It was the abbot, walking on water, and coming toward shore. After the abbot passed by the two monks and continued on to the Monastery, one of the monks turned to the other and said, “All these months in prayer and the abbot is still as stingy as ever. After all, the ferry costs only 25 cents!”

Humor aside, the point of the story is that it’s amazing how easily we may sometimes miss the significance of something that is right in front of us.

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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 Monk’s Story Part 5

 

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.

 

Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.

 

I was a Benedictine monk for several years.

 

In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.

 

Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…

 

In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.

 

For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.

 

I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.

 

Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.

 

Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.

 

After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.

 

And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.

 

Still am.

 

Were good men in the monastery?

 

Yes.

 

Did hurtful things happen there?

 

Yes.

 

The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.

 

We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.

 

After I became an official monk, I received new work.

 

Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.

 

Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.

 

Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.

 

Or I had to wash dishes.

 

Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.

 

But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.

 

The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.

 

Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.

 

From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.

 

As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.

 

During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.

 

He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.

 

I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.

 

I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.

 

“My life would be better if he left,” I said.

 

Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.

 

With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.

 

With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.

 

Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:

 

“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”

 

I was shaken like never before.

 

These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.

 

It’s a part of human nature.

 

But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.

 

At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.

 

Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.

 

I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.

 

You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.

 

We worked together. We prayed together.

 

Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.

 

The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.

 

The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.

 

Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.

 

So, Brother Simon and I talked.

 

That’s all.

 

It was all that needed to happen.

 

Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.

 

Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.

 

It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.

 

And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…

 

If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.

 

I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.

 

But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.

 

In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.

 

Does it expunge the temptation to hate?

 

No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.

 

Do I always succeed?

 

Certainly not.

 

But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.

 

What am I surrendering to?

 

A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.

 

But I know enough to be kind.

 

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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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Practice Hospitality

monasteryporterBe hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

1 Peter 4:9-10

Monastic hospitality is the model for us today. The monastic way of hospitality holds the key to the future of the church, at least here in the United States. Monastic hospitality requires that the Monastery doors be open to all Christians who present themselves to the porter at the gate. Churches and Christians need to realize this kind of hospitality may require changes of attitude, and even lifestyles, so that the church can be a more vital place ministering to others in the twenty first century.

Our challenge is to finds ways that we can practice hospitalty in our everyday lives. When the “open door” becomes a way of life for us God will bring blessings to our lives. We can all practice hospitality in simple ways. Here are a few.

  • Throw a party and invite someone new.
  • Greet strangers as Jesus did.
  • Invite someone to your home for a meal.
  • Host mission volunteers.
  • Prepare someone’s favorite food for them.
  • Turn the TV off and log off the computor when a guest arrives.
  • Simply welcome unexpected guests.
  • Make your guest feel like you are interested in them.

Dictionary.com defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” I think the keyword here is “friendly” because we can receive people and show no feelings at all.

We can receive them coldly, or make it obvious that we’re put out.I think in our American culture many of us have forgotten what it means to be hospitable. Sure we all put on a good face when we have people over on our terms (like for a dinner party), but what about being hospitable when it is an inconvenience for us? I think about when people stop by our home and we’re watching TV.

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Hope in Exile

 

It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted.   Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony. The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, ‘My Father, they will not receive me.’ Then the old man sent them a message saying, ‘A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore. ‘When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying deals with a very difficult dilemma. I am going to assume that the brothers who expelled the monk had a legitimate reason to do so. When people live in community, or attend the same church, there are times that personalities clash, mistakes are made, and the boredom of sameness hits. In all these situations there is usually a more guilty party that pays the price of the conflict, but there should be a desire for reconciliation. Abba Anthony reminds us in this saying that we are all potential victims of a personal or spiritual shipwreck. Further he tells us we would never turn our backs on the victims of a true shipwreck that comes to our shores. The real key to the saying is this; when someone asks to be reconciled with the community, we must give them a chance at redemption. Permanent exile, or expulsion, is not the way of the Christian.

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