Seeking “the one thing necessary”

vienulis malda vanduoFrom time immemorial, in many different religions, some men and women have concluded that their most profound aspirations cannot be fulfilled in this changing world. Therefore, they devote themselves to seeking the “one thing necessary” (Lk 10, 42) in response to a calling which resonates deeply in their heart. They choose a life style differing from that of their contemporaries, and characterized by things like a distinctive form of dress, a free choice in favor of chastity and poverty, and a certain seclusion from the outside world, whether it be as a member of a monastic community, or alone, under the direction of a spiritual master.

Jesus calls his disciples

It is not an easy thing to find an authentic spiritual master. Christians are people who have discovered that Christ is the only true master. Jesus continually repeats to all his disciples the calling addressed to the rich young man in the Gospel: “You still lack one thing; go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; and then, come, follow me” (Mk 10, 21). Those who respond to this invitation believe that Jesus, the Son of the living God, is the only leader capable of guiding them to the object of their desires, to the “one necessary thing”. They choose, therefore, to follow him.

The life of early Christians

The first Christians of Jerusalem already responded to this invitation of the Lord: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and all who believed were together and had all things in common; they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. Day by day, attending the Temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God…The company of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 2: 42. 44-47; 4, 32).

Christian monks

This first community was scattered when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. During the first centuries of the Church, however, many Christians continued to remain faithful to this ideal. Some, in their zeal to live more fully according to the Gospel, abandoned the world in order to follow Christ into the desert. They were called monks (monachos in Greek); because their unique (monos) concern was to seek God in a life of solitude and consecrated chastity.

St. Anthony the Great (252-356) is generally held as the first known Christian monk. He withdrew into the Egyptian desert and engaged in a long interior struggle against all the forces opposed to the work of God. Many others soon followed his example. Christian monasticism rapidly developed in various forms, and spread throughout the region.

St. Benedict and his Rule for Monks

Benedict of Nursia, an Italian of the 6th century (480-550), was a student in Rome when he first heard the call to abandon all things in order to seek God. He began by living as a hermit in a mountain cave. Soon, disciples gathered around him, and he eventually founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino. For his community, St. Benedict composed a Rule in which - faithful to the already existing monastic traditions - he taught his disciples to live according to the Gospel. The Rule of St. Benedict is a masterpiece of wisdom and discretion. This is why it was finally adopted by monks throughout the West. It is still alive and pertinent today. Benedictines are indeed monks “who live in community, and serve under a Rule and an Abbot.” (RB 1,2). Observing the Rule of St. Benedict, they constitute the most ancient monastic order in the Western Church.

Monks and other forms of consecrated life

The monastic life has as its primary goal the quest for God in prayer, solitude and silence. This quest is a powerful witness and it suffices to justify the existence of monasticism. Along side this, the only direct pastoral activity normally exercised by monks, involves the celebration of the sacred liturgy and the reception of guests. In the 12th century, various other forms of religious life began to appear in response to the new needs of the Church at the time: Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits are only some of the better known orders. These have as their specific goal pastoral activities and works of charity, which keep them in steady contact with the world. For this reason, the members of these orders are not referred to as “monks” in the strict sense of the term but rather as “brothers” or “religious”.

Links between Benedictine monasteries

Each Benedictine monastery is autonomous. In the course of time, as new foundations were made or reforms undertaken, "congregations", grouping together several monasteries, were gradually formed. Today most monasteries belong to one of these. At present there are 21 Benedictine congregations. Together they comprise the "Benedictine Confederation" with its headquarters in Rome, but it must be stressed that within the Order of St. Benedict there is no uniformity and no hierarchy: all the congregations are on an equal footing, and each has its own traditions and customs. The monastery of Saint Benedict of Palendriai belongs to the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes, founded in France in 1833, which restored Benedictine life suppressed at the time of the French Revolution. This congregation now has 32 monasteries of men or women, issuing from the Abbey of Solesmes. These monasteries exist in Europe, Africa and America.