After Terce, the monks assemble in the Chapter Room, the community meeting room adjacent to the Church, where daily work is assigned. Most will be occupied on the mushroom farm in some manner. Food is being prepared and cooked for the twenty-one monks and the guests on retreat. As St. Benedict writes: “When they live by the labor of their hands, then they are truly monks” (Rule 48:8). Hard physical labor also provides balance of mind, body, and spirit, central to the life of prayer. Further, labor strengthens the bonds of fraternal communion by sharing in a common task. Work ends at 11:30.
After None, there is time for a short siesta. At 1:45 PM, the community returns to work until about 3:30 PM. On some days work will continue in the mushroom farm. On others, different tasks may be assigned — cleaning the Church or infirmary, cutting grass, painting, or working in the library. All of these tasks can provide opportunity for quiet simple prayer.
On several days of the week, those in formation, novices and postulants, have classes on various topics such as Scripture, liturgy, monastic sources, the Cistercian patrimony, and the vows. On days when classes meet, the work of the monks in formation ends at 3:00 PM, so that they may do final preparations for their classes. One of the purposes of the courses is to provide a philosophical and theological foundation which will allow for a deeper formation and integration into the monastic way of life.
Study Days With the Novices of Belmont Abbey
Mepkin’s two novices and one postulant journeyed with our novice director to Belmont, North Carolina to participate in a program of study coordinated by Sr. Jeanne Margaret McNally, RSM, PhD, JCL. Hosted at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas South Central Province in Belmont, Father Jonas, Brother Anthony Maria and Brother Ken joined with the four Benedictine novices and one observer from Belmont Abbey for a program designed under the umbrella of an appreciation for the encyclical ‘Lumen Fidei’ of Pope Francis. The presentations were: Living the Law, offered by Rev. Philip Scarcella, Ph.D, JCD; Faith and the New Encyclical, offered by Dr. Ronald Thomas, Jr. of the Theology Department of Belmont Abbey College; The Monastic Tradition and Social Justice, offered by Sister Rose Marie Tresp, RSM; and The Contemplative Life, offered by Father Kevin, M.Div of Mepkin. There was an informal gathering with Sister Jane Hotstream, RSM, President of the South Central Province of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, allowing for some conversation around recent developments in the dialogue between LCWR and the Vatican body asked to clarify some positions or holdings of the women religious who belong to the LCWR. A final session entitled Challenges and Encouragement in Religious Life was offered to those in formation from Mepkin Abbey by Bishop William Curlin, Bishop Emeritus of Charlotte. Mepkin and Belmont Abbey, through the efforts of Sister Jeanne Margaret, have a history of these study days. It has proven especially helpful to our men in formation to help them understand the active apostolates of religious in the world around us. And our visit to a Benedictine monastic community who live in the midst of their college campus providing higher education is both enlightening and a cause to more deeply appreciate our way of separation and hiddenness. These days afford the opportunity to pray with and observe Benedictine monks who are in service to the church as educators while engaging us in reflecting on the disciplines and values which are essential to the Cistercian tradition.