THE MONASTIC VOCATION
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of the Master
and incline the ear of thy heart;
freely accept and faithfully fulfill the instructions of a loving Father,
that by the labor of obedience thou mayest return to Him
from whom thou hast strayed by the sloth of disobedience.
To thee are my words now addressed,
Whosoever thou mayest be
That renouncing thine own will
To fight for the true King, Jesus Christ,
Dost take up the strong and glorious weapons of obedience.
With astonishing perfection these opening words of the Rule express what is the true nature of the vocation to the monastic life. It is nothing other than the response from a son to follow in his father’s footsteps. The monk is a prodigal son who returns to his father’s house, and this homecoming is a wonder of grace, the fundamental grace upholding every vocation to the religious life. The Father, is God the Father the Almighty, who wills to call his adopted sons home to their ultimate end, to the eternal facie ad Faciem (I Corinthians XIII, 12) of the beatific vision. The vocation thus begins in light of this vision, and it will be in union with the Son of the Eternal Father, that the monk will have constant recourse for hope and perseverance through the dura et aspera, (Rule chapter 58) the hard and demanding challenges of the present life that will one day lead him to heaven. The son, now no longer estranged, as a new soldier, in a new Knighthood (c.f. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood,) he must train and strengthen his grip and grasp of the unfamiliar strong and glorious weapons of obedience (Rule, Prologue,) in imitation of His Saviour, knowing that he, too, will be redeemed by none other than the same means as shown by the sign of the Cross.
The Order’s motto is PAX, pax Benedicti, heir to the pax Romana, the peace of ancient Rome, the once temporal, political peace of the Roman Empire would be transformed into the peace of Benedict, the peace of the Divine Order, the supernatural tranquilityof order, radiating from the interior city of the monastic cloisters to the cities of Christendom.
Just as Divine Revelation finds its twofold expression in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the Sacred Liturgy and the Holy Rule are the two pillars of the Monastic Order. St. Gregory the Great, pope and biographer of St. Benedict, wrote of his Rule: Remarkable for its discretion… it is the synthesis of the entire teaching of the Holy Gospels (St. Gregory the Great in Book II of the Dialogues.) Organized in 73 chapters like the books of Sacred Scripture, and concentrated into a compact practical code of living with its discretio or equilibrium and balance of moderation, the Rule of St. Benedict is a permanent foundation stone of Christendom and one of the invariables of history. This Rule written by a great saint has produced not only an unbroken tradition of sanctity but also vast societies of holiness, with both the monastery and the Christian city bearing its hallmarks. For over 15 centuries the Depositum Monasticum, the deposit of the monastic spirit,like a mirror image of the deposit of the Faith, has been inviolably carried across the expanse of time, intact. Thanks to this Rule, which enshrines the spirit of the Essential, and which has left out nothing for Christian living, both within and without the monastery walls, for religious and laity alike, the same spirit that has founded Christendom is also the same means unto its restoration in our present day.
Gifted with a penetrating depth of wisdom and experience, St. Benedict is the doctor of human nature, knowing the balance needed for true conversion. He calls his monastic way of life a school where the austerity of the letter is supplanted by the largess of the spirit, the law of love. Therefore we establish a School of the Lord’s Service… based on the teaching of charity, in founding which he hopes to ordain nihil asperum, nihil grave, nothing bitter, nothing burdensome so as not to dishearten, he exhorts the young monk, not to be overcome with fear and flee from the way of salvation (Rule, Prologue.) The vocation is universal, multi sunt vocati, for many are called, and they are to convert to God in toto corde with the whole heart (St. Matthew XX, 16.) In this sensethe fallen state of human nature is not to be cast away or condemned, but rather restored and redeemed, both in body and soul, through Ora et Labora, prayer and work. The practice of the virtue of modestia, the ancient ideal of moderation and patience, thus makes up one of the great teachings of the Benedictine school, safeguarded by the encouragements of fraternal charity. The Benedictine vision is therefore one of the heart, seeing the longanimitas, the long term, in the longer work of a lifetime, which in fine every part of man is to be raised up, sanctified and perfected in grace.
If there must needs be some strictness of discipline, let it be understood that this is unto the preservation of Charity. Let all things be so tempered and ordered that souls may be saved (Rule, chapter 41.)
Media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi.
In the midst of the night I shall rise unto thy praise.
(Psalm 118, 62)
The Benedictine is a contemplative. The primacy of prayer is the guiding principle of the monastic horarium. The monk lives the inverse of the secular day, rising at night in order to be about the things of his Father. (St. Luke II, 49)
The bell rings at 3AM, he rises and goes to the Church to begin one to two hours of the Divine Office of Matins sung in Gregorian Chant, returning afterwards to the monastic cell in solitary study. At the break of dawn, the bell rings again for the Divine Office of Lauds, concluding the first part of the waking hours of the monk. By 7:30 AM the monks have completed 4 hours of prayer.
Septies in die laudem dixi Tibi.
Seven times a day have I given praise to Thee. (Psalm 118, 164)
Seven times during the day, called the Hours, the bells will call the Benedictine to return to the monastery church to attend to the Opus Dei, the Work of God, which divides each part of the day with prayer, the universal prayer of the Church. Let nothing be put before the Work of God… let nothing be preferred to the love of Christ. (Rule chapters 4 and 43) The Work of God is the essence of Benedictine life.
In mid-morning, between sessions of study, the Conventual Mass, the communityHigh Mass sung daily in Gregorian Chant, is the heart of the day. The hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None continue the Laus perennis, the unending praise of God, which the ancient sundials fixed to the side of the Churches of Christendom marked with a shadow, indicating each passing hour of prayer.
Meals in a monastery are a reflection of the Liturgy, where the brethren take turns preparing and serving the community repast, taken in silence in the Refectory, while edifying readings sustain the spiritual and intellectual formation of the monks. The Benedictine is a disciple of Christ, (Rule chapter 6) everything in the monastery is an uninterruptedteaching, by which God makes use of all things great and small as instrumental causes to communicate his grace, being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus…and this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding. (Philippians I, 6 and 9) Not only in the highest and most sublime liturgical actions performed in the Church, but also in the most humble labors of the hands in the fields where in all things, at all times and in all places, the disciple of Christ is being formed by the masters of nature and grace. Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus. That in all things God may be glorified. (Rule chapter 57)
The spirit of contemplative prayer now becomes action, and manual work, fills the remainder of the day beneath the watchful gaze of God, imitating the Filius fabri,the son of the artisan (St. Matthew XIII, 55.)Labor, the second half of Benedictine life, is a constant recourse to St. Joseph, called upon daily to guide the hands of the laboring monks. As prescribed by the Rule, the monastery operates a farm, several workshops and agift shop apostolate. The arts and crafts of manual labor are thus expressed in husbandry, with the products of various farm animals such as dairy and the spinning of wool, bakery, leather and iron work, woodworking, letterpress printing and other noble works that utilize materials made by God unto his greater glory, where the Divine Order overflows into every aspect of living so as to achieve an integrity of life. As the living descendants of the Desert Fathers, the monks work in joyful obedience and silence, communicating by sign language, to weave or to unweave their baskets (Sayings of the Desert Fathers,) as it shall please God! We are happy, O Israel, because the things that are pleasing to God have been made known to us (Baruch IV,4.)
Thus formed according to the mind of his Father, in hominem perfectum, a complete man (Colossians I, 28,) the Benedictine has responded to the call of God in his vocation, to live out his days in the service of things divine, corda et corpora, with heart and body working together in harmony, for He hath established in me the order of Charity (Canticles II, 4.)
The Monastic Day comes to its end in the evening with Community Rosary, the prayer hours of Vespers and Compline at sunset. The monk retires at 8 PM.