by Father Columba
Many people have commented in recent times that they’re living like monks. And as a monk living in a monastery, I’m beginning to see that there’s a lot of truth to that comparison. Perhaps all the world is a bit of a monastery at the moment, and many people are living monastic lives. With that in mind, I thought I would look at the monastic values and reflect on how people are living them out in the present crisis.
- Stability: In the Rule of St. Benedict, it is written that the ideal monk should stay in the one place for life and live in the company of other monks. This is the Benedictine ideal. Carthusians, on the other hand, live a more hermit-like existence. The latter is true for people who are shut in and living alone; they are often living in isolation and loneliness. For those blessed to have other people in their lives, the idea of staying at home with the support of their friends, perhaps even online, is very like what we do living in the same monastery all the time.
- Community: Here in Mepkin we are blessed to live with other brothers, which is an even greater blessing at a time like this. People are told to socially distance, but many are managing to keep in touch through the gift of social media and technology. Many people have told me how they were kept going by friends sending them jokes or funny stories online. Anything that builds up community is to be encouraged.
- Prayer: St. Benedict dedicated a lot of time in his Rule telling the monks how to pray the Divine Office. This is the great prayer of the church, and many people are discovering it now in the absence of Eucharist. If you’d like to say the Divine Office, you simply get the free app at Universalis and all the Offices of the day will be there for you. If you’d like to meditate, go to the home page of the Mepkin website. There you can see how you can link in with others every Tuesday and Thursday in a prayer and meditation session organized by Father Guerric and Kathy Tosney. If you’d like more information on meditation, go to www.wccm.org, the website for the World Community for Christian Meditation. Also, at this time, many parishes are livestreaming their services. If you’d like a more monastic bent to your livestreaming, I would suggest the Cistercian nuns of Wrentham Abbey. Their website is msmabbey.org. In addition, the monks of Glastonbury in Boston are livestreaming their Mass. You can access their site at www.glastonburyabbey.org. If you’d like an Irish flavor, visit the monks of Glenstal Abbey at www.glenstal.com or the Redemptoristine Sisters at www.rednuns.com.
- Silence and solitude: We’re spending more time on our own these days. Time alone doesn’t have to be a drag. You can be creative and learn a lot through silence. Monks spend a lot of time in silent reflection, and there’s no reason why anyone at home can’t use the silence well. Of course, if it’s too much for you, it’s important that you make contact with others by phone, email, or any other means available to you.
- Guests: for Benedict, a monastery is never short of guests. People are always coming and going, and in them, he says we find Christ. It’s very strange here at Mepkin without guests since we have closed. For other people, it’s not possible to receive guests. That’s why it is really important that we keep communicating. If you know somebody who is alone and is in need of friendship, make sure to reach out to them. Don’t leave them in isolation. In talking about guests, Benedict emphasized that the poor should be especially welcomed. This is our Christian responsibility, to make sure that the poor are taken care of. I’m very impressed how Pope Francis is constantly inviting us at this time to remember the poor. The Vatican Almoner, who looks after the poor in Rome, is Cardinal Krajeweski, a Polish cardinal who is spending his time driving around Rome, supplying the poor with food and clothing. There are many others like him throughout the world. You can share in this by making a donation to an individual or group who is helping the poor.
- Good leadership: St. Benedict emphasizes the role of the abbot. We should at this time be praying for our political leaders that they will make good decisions respecting the health and well-being of their citizens, reaching out to care for the sick and the dying.
- Work: Benedict says that each of the monks should work, ideally physical work, so try to do something at home that’s physical. For instance, cleaning the house, gardening, whatever is possible for you. Have a project. Lots of people are doing interesting and creative things. Online courses are thriving.
- Reading: In addition to work, Benedict emphasizes the importance of reading, so take this time to read that book you never got around to reading. The Bible is always open to you for further prayer and reflection.
- The sick, the elderly, and the young: I’ve mentioned the sick before, but don’t forget, as Benedict emphasizes, the most vulnerable at this time-the elderly and the young. I was very struck yesterday to receive an email from Dublin in which a teacher was telling me about how her students are told now to learn on their computers. Forty percent of her pupils live in disadvantaged areas and don’t have access to wi-fi, computers, smartphones, or tablets. Let’s remember them and all the young people whose lives and education have been disrupted by the present crisis. Remember, too, the elderly. Although we can’t visit them at this time, we certainly can call them or write them to make sure that they are not alone.
- Obedience: St. Benedict emphasizes that the monk is one who is obedient to the Rule and to the abbot. With a lot of regulations now in place, we might feel constricted. However, it is really important that we obey them, because by obeying them, we are not only protecting our own health, but safeguarding the health of others. There’s no time for selfishly breaking the guidelines we’ve been asked to follow.
And so, monastic practices have always had a resonance with society. In these days, discover the joy of a simpler life. Even if we have to stay apart, we can still come together in creative ways to be a community. I think particularly at this time, the world is indeed a monastery.