The monastery as a school for serving the Lord

St. Benedict established his monastery as a “school for the service of the Lord”. Those who are called by Jesus to enter it are not yet perfect, but merely beginners (73, 1). In the monastery everyone is a disciple, and Christ the only true master. St. Benedict insists: “To speak and to teach are the role of the master; whereas that of the disciple is to be silent and to listen”. (6, 6)

In the very first line of the Rule, Benedict invites all of us to listen to the Lord : “Hearken, o my son, to the precepts of the master, and incline the ear of your heart; willingly receive and faithfully accomplish the admonition of your loving father.” (Pr. 1) If we are to listen, silence and a certain measure of solitude are necessary conditions. And in order to accomplish the Lord’s teachings, we must practice docility and ongoing conversion.

Learning to Follow Christ

In his Rule, St. Benedict often contemplates the mystery of Christ: Jesus is the Lord and master but “he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death” (Phil 2, 8), because of his love for the Father and for us who are his brothers and sisters.

The monk applies to himself the words of St. Paul: “The Son of God loved me, and he gave himself up for me.” (Gal 2, 20) How can we respond to such a great love? St. Benedict points out the way: “Return” he writes, “by the labor of obedience to Him from Whom you departed by the sloth of disobedience.” (Pr. 1)

And he continues: “My words therefore are addressed to you, whoever you may be. Renouncing your own will, you are taking up the most powerful and brilliant armor of obedience in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true King.” (Pr. 2-3)

The monastery is thus a school where we learn to serve the Lord, preferring absolutely nothing to the love of Christ. (4, 22 and 72, 11)

Religious Vows

Every Christian, in virtue of his baptism, solemnly promises to renounce all evil. The monk, who holds nothing dearer than Christ, freely takes vows which entail giving up not only evil, but also many things that are in themselves good and legitimate. He does this in order to magnify his liberty, so that he can ceaselessly be open to God’s love, and respond to it spontaneously with a vigilant and unhindered heart.

Taking Jesus as his model, the monk gives up all personal possessions, and thus imitates and follows Christ most closely. (Mt 19, 21) He renounces the possibility of founding a family so that he can devote himself entirely to the affairs of the Lord. (I Cor 7: 34) He gives up living according to his own will, in order to be more fully obedient to the truth. (I Pet 1, 22)

A School of Prayer

As Jesus taught, we ought “always to pray, and never lose heart.” (Lk 18, 1) The disciples themselves pleaded with him: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” The monastery is also a school of prayer, and this is due in large part to the liturgy.

The Divine Office - or official liturgical prayer of the Church - is assigned in a particular way to monks. In St. Benedict’s mind, the liturgy is the “Work of God” par excellence, to which the monks “should prefer nothing.” (43, 3)

The liturgy is celebrated in the church, the principal edifice and the very the heart of the monastery. In a similar manner, liturgical prayer occupies the primary place in the daily schedule of the monks.

Each day, the brothers celebrate solemn Mass together. The Abbot calls certain monks to be ordained deacons or priests so that they can serve at the liturgy.

Seven times a day, as the psalm puts it (118, 164), the brothers assemble in order to sanctify the different times of day by the liturgy of the hours.

At Palendriai the liturgy is entirely sung in Gregorian chant. This is the ancient chant of the Western Church, the chant proper to the Roman liturgy. Because of its structure and melody, it is intimately linked to the Latin language. Its great beauty makes it a worthy vehicle for expressing the praises of God.

Each day, in addition to the liturgy, the monk devotes a good part of his time to meditating the Word of God (Lectio divina), mental prayer and the recitation of the rosary.

In order to insure an atmosphere conducive to meditation, St. Benedict orders that nothing be done or kept in the church that is not related to prayer. The Abbot also assigns each monk an individual cell, where he can pray, work and sleep.

The monastic family

Like the Church itself, the monastery is a body composed of various members. In the Church, Christ gathers people from every race, language and nation, so that they can love and help one another in harmony, as children of God led by the Holy Spirit. It is also Jesus and his Holy Spirit who choose brothers to become the members of a religious community. The monastery is a large family and by the vow of stability, a monk enters into this family and chooses to live there for his entire life.

St. Benedict recommends that the monks reverence their seniors and love their juniors. (4, 70-71) At the end of the his Rule he insists: “Let them hasten to anticipate one another in honor; let no one seek that which he accounts useful for himself, but rather what is profitable to another; let them practice fraternal charity with a chaste, unselfish love.” (72, 4. 7-8)

The Father Abbot

Elected by the brothers, in order to represent Christ in their midst, the Abbot is the father of the monastery. He must endeavor to help the monks discern what God’s will is for them so that they can accept it and joyfully accomplish it. Taking into account the various needs and the capacities of each brother, the abbot assigns each monk his work in the service of the community and the Church.

St. Benedict says that the abbot should “seek to be loved rather than feared.” In turn, he asks the brothers to “love their abbot with sincere and humble affection.” (72, 10)

Ora et labora – pray and work

Benedictine monks strive to earn their living, for through their work, they serve the Lord and become productive members of the community. Work - manual or intellectual - also enables them to attain a satisfying level of personal achievement. Work and prayer compliment each other, and the Rule prescribes a judicious balance between these two essential activities.

Young monks spend several years receiving a monastic and religious formation, while seeking to acquire other skills and complete their education in various fields of knowledge. The monastery endeavors to offer each brother a program adapted to his capacities and needs. These intensive studies can last as long ten years. Once they are completed, a monk will devote most of his time contributing to the community’s well-being. Still, everyone is encouraged to pursue his formation to the extent this is possible.

With the heart overflowing

Most monks are conspicuously free and joyful. Yet their way of life is easily deemed gloomy and austere when judged by a world which has forsaken the values of the Gospel. Faith sees things in an entirely different light. In the monastic life, trials and temptations are inevitable and the monk knows that these difficulties contribute to his spiritual progress. He therefore turns to God and implores his assistance, knowing that the Father will never refuse to help him.

In his prologue, St. Benedict notes that as the monk “advances in this manner of life and in faith, he becomes able to run along the way of God’s commandments, his heart overflowing with an inexpressible delight of love”. (Pr. 49) And at the end of the Rule we are again reminded that those who “prefer absolutely nothing the love of Christ,” will be “brought all together, by the Lord, to life everlasting”. (72, 11 - 12)