Monastic Prayer & Work
Our lives are very full, partly because we are a new foundation and there is much work to do, partly because the Rule establishes a rhythm of life in which prayer and work alternate with each other in a kind of stately dance. The early monastic fathers were eager to respond to the Lord’s injunction to pray without ceasing. When St. Benedict arranges the seven moments of public prayer during the day, he does so knowing that seven is a mystical number signifying completeness or totality. When he lays out the times for lectio divina, or the prayerful rumination on the Sacred Scriptures, his intention is that prayer become so much a part of a monk’s life, part of his very breathing, that it wells up spontaneously within his heart.
The daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with solemn liturgical beauty, captures the heart of the monastic vocation. St. Benedict says to prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ: where is the love of Christ more clearly shown than in his supreme gift of himself pro nobis on the Cross? St. Benedict says that the monk, when he makes his vows, is to place his vow chart on the altar at the Offertory, to be offered along with the sacrifice of Christ, to the Father. So in a very real sense, the daily offering of the Mass is a renewal of the monk’s self-offering, of his Suscipe. Work has always been a hallmark of the monk — any kind of work, manual, clerical and intellectual — but always done with care and reverence, since the tools of the monastery should be treated like the sacred vessels of the altar.
Our monastic life is lived out in community, in that school of charity where we learn to give of ourselves for the sake of our brother. Monks come in all shapes and sizes. In any given community there is often the whole range of personality types from one end of the spectrum to the other. Living together softens our rough edges. Long practice in patience and forgiveness leads to genuine affection for our fellow monks and an appreciation of their many fine qualities which may be quite different from our own.
This is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rm 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers, to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may be bring us all together to everlasting life. (RB 723-12).