Thursday, August 02, 2007

Where Are Our Monks?


La Grande Chartreuse

I strongly commend to you a post on O Cuniculi, which is a most moving address given in 1977 by Dom Gerard, then prior of the Monastery of Sainte-Madeleine-a-Bedoin. Do read it all here, and then ask with me, where are our monks?

Here are some excerpts:

"A religion which is not contemplative is unworthy of God. So because he interests himself in God above all, the monk not only points to God, not only testifies to Him, he bear witness to the excellence of God. The God whom the majority of men forget - it is He whom the monk makes the centre of his life. The only thing that interests him, the only interesting thing in the world for him, is God. A monk is thus simply someone who has been ravished by the thought - by more than the thought of God; the monk has been caught up by the very sweetness of God, by the goodness of God, by the beauty of God. So he reaches out to seize hold immediately, in this present life, of what others lose sight of and end by encountering, sometimes too late, at the moment of death, on the threshold of eternity....

"(The monastic institution) reminded men that there is another world, the world of God. The sacred penetrated human institutions. It shaped the piety of Christians, because our West, however sick it is, however decadent because unfaithful to its vocation, has nevertheless received a seal, an impression that has marked it forever: it was the first monks sent out by the Benedictine Pope St. Gregory the Great who completed the evangelisation of Europe. He sent them to England, to the Friesians in Germany, to Spain and as far as Scandinavia. St. Maurus, the first disciple of our Father St. Benedict, had already planted the Benedictine monastic life among the Gauls. These missionary monks were sent not at first to preach, because at the beginning that was impossible, but to live their monastic life among the pagans. They founded monasteries, they lived the Rule of St. Benedict, they taught men how to work. It is good when a man works well, when he does a beautiful piece of work. They taught men to read in a beautiful book which the pagans did not know, the book of Holy Scripture. And, above all they taught them how to pray, thanks to the liturgical river which flows throughout the year and which is the best school of prayer.

"In this way, Western Christianity was moulded by the first Benedictine monks. And something of it remains, something not always found on other continents where Anglo-Saxon Protestantism has placed its mark, where temporal success is considered a blessing from God, where luck evidently has its place. With us, it is not the same pattern. In our West, sick as it is (it is perhaps stricken to death), despite our degradation, our surrenders, there is a sense of God, a spiritual quest. Why? Because it is in our blood. It was instilled into us in our cradle. Our civilisation was signed by the Benedictines in the early centuries. They laid stress on the gratuitousness of divine service on disinterested love. And I believe it is this which will save the world..."

25 comments:

Ohio Anglican said...

Ecomnomic realities often make monasteries/convents an impossibility in the modern world. How does a monastery support itself? How does a monastery pay its bills?

Old established monasteries are able to "get by", but establishing new ones is not generally a possibility.

However, membership in a religious order/religious community is a wonderful spiritual blessing to those who join. More importantly, it provides a blessing to others in the world if the members of the religious community are effective at outreach and evangelism.

Becoming an Oblate or a Third Order Member of religious community is a wonderful way to center your life on Christ.

Brian McKee, Novice Oblate, Community of the Good Samaritan, ACC

Wells Bruce said...

Monasticism is the contemplative heart of Christianity, and there has never been an age in which the Church has forsaken this heart. Moreover, the Church is mystically supported by the continual prayers of its monastics. Without them, we engage in our mission to the world without one of our most potent supports. There are Orthodox monasteries springing up all over the country. The Continuum must make a similar commitment to monasticism, however small its communities may be in the beginning, or risk becoming a half-hearted expression of the Faith.

Albion Land said...

Wells,

My sentiments exactly. Yet I fear that Ohio Anglican's point about economic viability cannot be overlooked.

Perhaps we could start with an inventory. To my knowledge, the ACC had a Dominican community in the US northwest and a Benedictine one in Kentucky. IIRC, both of these have either gone dormant or shut down.

Are/were there any others?

Ohio Anglican said...

Whether they live in the same building, or in their own residences across the country, a religious community is a "community" because the members of the community unite in the mystical ministry of prayer. Hopefully, they also unite in service as Christ commanded us. To feed the poor, visit and care for the sick, etc.

The Community of the Good Samaritan is a new religious community of First Orders, Second Orders and Oblates/Priest Oblates, etc. It is our hope to be an active community that lives up to the name "Good Samaritan" in our aid to the poor, the sick, etc. We also hope to be a publishing arm and evangelistic arm of the ACC.

Brian McKee, Novice Oblate, Community of the Good Samaritan, ACC

Albion Land said...

Brian,

You are right to point out the importance of the wider community (I am an Elmore oblate myself), nor should anything be said against the existence of non-residential orders.

But I think the point being made here, reflected in the following excerpt, is that a residential community provides a visible and tangible apostolate that allows seekers to immerse themselves in the corporate life of prayer, in its fullest sense.

And that leads on to a very central facet of the Benedictine Way -- the ministry of hospitality.

Excerpt:

"One day, some ten years ago in our monastery in the High Pyrenees, a group of pilgrims were being received. They were shown the church. It was about five o'clock and twilight on a winter afternoon. After a moment one of the visitors approached the choir. He thought he saw there, against a pillar, a statue that interested him. He went up to the immobile form, leaned down, and, embarrassed, immediately withdrew. The reason for his discomfiture was that the "statue" was a monk praying - a still form in the shadows unaware that there were people around. The story became known, and we realised yet again the radiance, the mysterious influence, which prayer exercises on men - on all men. It is this which is immediately tangible in a monastery."

Abu Daoud said...

Good remarks, and it is really a good quote. I have posted a section of it at islamdom.blogspot.com.

What I like is how he reminds us of the link between apostolic mission (evangelizing the unreached peoples) and monastic life.

Perhaps monastic communities would flourish if they tried to emphasize and engaged in evangelizing the unreached. It is my sense that among the Catholics that is largely the case right now.

Finally, I think there are many Orthodox monasteries in the USA that are fairly recent and are flourishing. I remember visiting one in Texas once, it was fairly new, and had a good number of young men who were novices or monks.

Ohio Anglican said...

Albion:

I agree wholeheartedly that a monastery or convent is the ideal of Benedictine Monastism/monasticism in general.

The Community of the Good Samaritan does hope to estalish a convent and monastery. However, in today's world it is not as easy as it once was to do that.

Its hard to get the faithful to fund churches well, let alone monasteries/convents. Its also harder for a monastery/convent to be able to produce something to sell to support the house than it used to be.

However, I agree that a monastic house is the ideal.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

In the U.S. the idea of Anglican monasteries has been soured by the Episcopal Church, because too many of them have become dominated by sodomites. But, in war it is right to take back lost ground. Monasteries and convents, truly living by the Rule, would be a healthy addition to the life of Continuing Churches.

poetreader said...

What is difficult about a group of men sharing a residence and finding ways to make a living? Is that economically more difficult than a man alone supporting himself? I don't think so. It can be done, in this present economy, probably more easily than in the founding days of monasticism, especially if one takes vows of poverty seriously. What, after all, does a monk need? Not much.

Frankly, I believe the very thing that keeps us from establishing viable communities today is the same thing that made it necessary to seek the desert in the first place - a Christianity that is all tied up in things, in practicalities, in comforts. If there is not a visible revival of the attitude of the Desert Fathers, the Church will wither into obscurity until there is.

Brian, I honor what you and your confreres are attempting, but I disagree that it is economics that is preventing the growth of real communities.

ed

Ohio Anglican said...

Poetreader:

If St. Benedict's Rule is properly observed, how a monastery should truly function, there is no time for the monks to leave to seek any kind of employment.

In a monastery setting, there are brief periods of work to be done, in between the main works of prayer. For a monk to have employment outside the monastery, he might as well be an Oblate, for he would miss the most important part of monastery life in the oratory and chapel.

So for a monastery to properly function as a monastery, and for the monks to truly live a life of prayer, they must not have employment outside the monastery. The monastery would have to have a way to support itself.

In times past, they made wine, ran a dairy farm, made communion wafers, made cheese, etc., etc. In today's world, even making communion wafers has been pretty much taken over by businesses outside the church. So, its tough to run a monastery by monastic rule today......unless some multi-millionaire wants to donate a property and an endowment to run it!

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Ohio Anglican said...

Ideally, the work periods between the formal services of prayer in a monastery would be spent on doing the work of the Apostalate.

Monks would be distributing food to the poor, cooking food for providing hospitality, caring for the sick, writing theological works or liturgical music, practicing music for the services, visiting shut-ins and/or the sick in their homes, taking communion to sick/shut-ins, etc., etc.

So. ideally the work time of the Monks would be devoted to God's work, not making a living.

Whether we want to face it or not, utility bills, money for food for the monks, clothing for the monks, health care for the monks, in today's world (even with vows of poverty) is quite costly.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...

That's what requires imagination. There's nothing really optional about the central facts of monasticism: Community life, community prayer, and time for contemplation.

St. Benedict would never have intended his Rule to be setting up a pattern that would keep these things from being realized. In our society, there are ways in which his principles can be applied. Where are the men of God to lead into doing so?

What is needed is not a benefactor to enable the establishment of a medieval pattern (though I would hope these beautiful patterns will become alive again in our world), but a man of God to apply Benedict's principles to the world in which he finds himself, just as Benedict himself did.

So, St. Benedict's schedule doesn't work well in the attempt to practice monasticism in this world, then find a schedule that will. Check out the RC Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus. These are highly contemplative men and women who take an apartment together, live a life of deep prayer, hold down regular jobs sufficient to support a very meager lifestyle, and minister works of mercy among the poor. They have no benefactors, and don't desire any.

It does sound as though CGS is making a good start in that direction, and I'd be interested in knowing a bit more about it -- but feeling bad because a particular pattern out of the past doesn't seem in reach is not going to revive monasticism. A determination to find some way to have what St. Benedict had in these circumstances will.

Were I a bit younger, I'd be looking in that direction.

ed

poetreader said...

At the moment the Diocese of the Northeast of ACA has the beginnings of a Benedictine house in Raymond ME. It is an attempt to live the Bendictine rule in a decidedly 20th century way. The Prior and his wife have both taken vows and live celibate, though presently still in the same house. Fr. Kevin, a true contemplative, is employed as a ferry captain on nearby Lake Sebago. There is also a bit of a farming operation and a shelter for abandoned animals. There are a number of oblates in the diocese. I'm praying that this rather eccentric beginning may take root and become a permanent thing.

There was an attempt at a Franciscan foundation with no fixed center, but I'm not sure of the status at this point as the superior has returned to the 'Old Catholic' environment from which he came.

In my parish there is a lone Augustinian monk, directly under the bishop, who is to be priested this Saturday. I don't know if that will lead anywhere.

ed

Ohio Anglican said...

Poetreader:

What you've mentioned is what we in the Community of the Good Samaritan are trying to do: adapt St. Benedict's Rule for today's world. Our Oblates are expected to do the work of the Apostalate. We are just not a Third Order, as in some communities/orders, that prays with and financially supports the order. Our Oblates do actual work for their church and community, we just just provide our own residence and living expenses through our secular income.

I run a Food Pantry for the needy in our church, deliver meals to the elderly for Meals on Wheels, play the organ in our church (not just Sundays but all the Holy Days - as our priest said last evening its rare to have an ACC parish with organ music on all the Holy Days), officiate Morning Prayer on Sundays, and have been writing Lenten/Advent studies and a Confirmation Course and other curricula for our community to print for ACC parishes to use.

Another one of our Oblates who is very talented at sewing makes all the Scapulars for our community. She is also the Sacristan in her parish, and has a wonderful ministry of mending and repairing old vestments for parishes lacking vestments for their priests. She also makes new vestments for priests, etc.

This is just two examples of how our Oblates are doing the work that a Nun or Monk might do in a convent or monastery. This is in addition to our daily offices of prayer.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yet the Orthodox have established monasteries in the USA with very little startup capital, just a great deal of prayer and hard work. The first pan-Orthodox monastery for women was founded in Ellwod City, PA. From that original group, 2 additional female monasteries have been started in just 25 years: one in Michigan and another in Denver. There are also fairly new monastery in West Virginia and Arizona. God can do so much through those who rely on God for everything and are willing to live an ascetic life.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Where are they?

Well, I am the "assistant" or "domestic chaplain" to one of our Franciscan Friars, Brother John-Charles (ACC's former Metropolitan). Then there is Brother John of the Cross in the USA, also of the FODC. I know of one Benedictine monk and on Benedictine nun in the ACC in the USA, and I think there are some Dominicans too. I don't know how many male or female religious there are in the Indian Province, so let us take the Original Province only.

We appear to have 5 or more religious in a church of 5,000+ members in the ACC (OP). (The latter figure is estimated as a minimum based on the numbers presented at the last Provincial Synod in 2005, where not all Dioceses remembered to send in their stats, unfortunately.) Approx. 1 religious per thousand members doesn't sound too great, but appears to compare favourably with the ratio in the RCC (and perhaps even EOC) in the West.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

What ever happened to that pan-Anglican Benedictine monastery in Ohio, or wherever it was (Bartonsville?), with that guy Abbott Morales? Anyone remember him? He sponsored some big Anglican "love in" to try to bring everyone together a few years ago. I never hear anything about him or that place anymore.

Ohio Anglican said...

I've never heard of a Benedictine Monastery here in Ohio. That's news to me!

There are also one Benedictine Nun, and about 5 Oblates in the Community of the Good Samaritan in the ACC that Fr. Kirby left out, as well as some Postulants.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The All Saints Convent in Catonsville, MD. is still officially listed as ECUSAn, but the nuns are all of the same mind as we are, and would gladly be done with that sect.

Fr. Kirby, one monk or nun per 1000 members is actually not bad at all. It is an excellent beginning.

One thing is very important. If the religious orders are to rise up and have the kind of effect that bears fruit, it must be in the religious community. The modern RC nun in a blue business suit who spends all day as a social worker is not the model that we need.

Ohio Anglican said...

I believe we as the church are commanded by Christ to feed the poor, care for the sick and the dying, comfort those who mourn, etc. The religious orders historically helped with many these duties. Many of the these duties are "social work", and Christ in these ways calls us to be social workers. This is only one facet of a religious order, but it is an important one.

Historically, feeding the poor, teaching job skills to the poor, housing the poor, caring for the sick and dying are the means by which the Benedictines converted lost souls/non-Christian societies to Christ. The healing and helping touch of the religious orders converted whole nations to Christ.

I have always loved the movie "Sister Act". Played by Whoopi Goldberg, a Vegas lounge singer, who has witnessed a mob hit, is put into a Convent in a run down neighborhood as her cover in witness protection. In one way it is a lovely story because Whoopi's character rediscovers God and catholicism (something from her childhood long neglected) and although not yet perfect, by any means, begins a turn around in her life.

In the second way, I believe the movie made some strong statements about the church and religious communities. The church, in a run-down neighborhood, was knocking on death's door. Why? Because it had the theory to build a big expensive boat and hope the fish will jump in the boat philosophy of church growth/fishing for souls. It had doomed the church to failure.

Whoopi, the lounge singer (proof that God can use even unlikely characters like you and I for his purpose), showed the Convent and the church that to fish for souls you need to go out into the waters with good bait! IE - the church needs to reach out with love to those around it, and show them that God and those in the church love them. Whoopi convinced the Nuns to leave the walls of the Convent and help the community. They sat up a day care center for working mothers and many other "social worker" programs. (She also taught the choir how to sing!) The result: the church was soon full and was truly ministering to the community.

Just a movie? Yes, it was a movie. But I've seen religious orders and churches who did reach out in love to their neighbors with the same wonderful results. Living proof exists in Bridge City/New Orleans, LA, where Good Samaritan Services (Anglican Catholic Social Services) is truly making a difference. In addition to helping the poor at Good Samritan Services, they are bringing these same people into St. Mary Magdalene Mission (a chapel in the building) to bring them to Christ - one soul at a time.

If the Continuum wishes to truly grow and bring souls to Christ, I truly believe that outreach evangelism, as I like to call it, will be a necessary component.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I believe we as the church are commanded by Christ to feed the poor, care for the sick and the dying, comfort those who mourn, etc. The religious orders historically helped with many these duties.

Yes. But, always in the context of the Religious Community- a monastery or convent. The Novus Nun in the secular garb is unable to draw people in, because the community life is absent.

Ohio Anglican said...

Father Hart:

You have my full agreement there. A Nun in a business suit no more draws people to Christ than a "clergyman" (unfortunately I know many - RCC and Protestant) who refuse to wear a clergy shirt/collar.

In the movie, "Sister Act", the Nuns were wearing full floor-length, traditional Habits. (I often wonder if the movie producer was trying to teach a lesson there?)

You are absolutely right, it is the sense of community, and most importantly the united prayers of the community behind the outreach evangelism/social service that allows the works of mercy to be effective. I agree 100%.

One of the brilliant accomplishments of traditional catholicism has been that it has known that to win souls to Christ you have to have both: 1. social service ministry (feeding the poor, caring for the sick and dying, etc.), and, 2. empahsis on salvation/saving works of Christ.

Protestants have failed in understanding the balance. The liberal main-line Protestants often don't even believe in the saving work of Christ and put all their effort into being nothing but a social service agency. The right wing fundamentalists/evagelicals largely ignore social concerns altogether (or confuse them with political action). They tend to focus on a strictly "me" philosophy of personal salvation and little concern for the world.

Catholicism in its traditional expression - Anglican, Orthodox and Roman - has always understood the need for a balance of both.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Ohio Anglican said...

The ACC, at present has about 100 parishes in the U.S. We have, from what information I've been told - it seems to agree with Fr. Kirby: one Benedictine Monastery with one Monk, one Dominican Monastery with two Monks, one Benedictine Nun in the Community of the Good Samaritan (who is instrumental in Good Samaritan Services), plus one or two others, and Brother John Charles. If we had even more Monks in the existing monasteries, and a Convent of Nuns, that would be a great blessing for the prayers that they can offer and the good works they do in their residential area.

In addition, though, think of how many additional blessings could result from their being one or two Oblate Brother or Sisters in each of the ACCs 100 U.S. parishes; especially if those Oblates were of the type that the Community of the Good Samaritan is training.

C.G.S. is training all its Nuns and Oblate Sisters who are interested and eligible to be commissioned as Deaconesses. All other Oblate Brothers and Sisters are being trained or encouraged to develope a talent/skill they already have to begin an Apostalate of their choosing in their local parish/residential area.

By giving the Oblate Brothers and Sisters an apostolate in which to serve, they could be a tremendous blessing to the work of their parish. I would think every priest would consider himself greatly blessed to have such an Oblate.

It seems to me in the discussion here that Oblates are being written off as unimportant and unable to do the work of God. I greatly believe that attitude to be wrong. All Christians were given the Great Commission, not just those in Holy Orders, or those who live in a Convent or a Monastery.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Anderson asked:

"What ever happened to that pan-Anglican Benedictine monastery in Ohio, or wherever it was (Bartonsville?), with that guy Abbott Morales? Anyone remember him? He sponsored some big Anglican 'love in' to try to bring everyone together a few years ago. I never hear anything about him or that place anymore."

I was at that first "love in", which may have been in 1992 or thereabouts. I was there as chauffeur and chaplain to the ACC's observer, the late Bishop Joseph Deyman, who was rather ill at the time. The monastery was (is?) in Bartonville, IL, not OH, just outside Peoria ("How will it play in Peoria?" as they used to say in the advertising business).

As to its being "Anglican", or even "pan-Anglican", I have my doubts. Apparently the group began in some R.C. diocese and then left that to be "independent" for a time (ever drive past one of those oxymoronic church signs, "St. Someone's Independent Episcopal Church"?).

Eventually, it was taken under the protection of Bp. Keith Ackerman of Quincy, IL but did not seem to have been integrated into his diocesan structure. Thus, at least at the time I was there, it was ECUSAn if it was anything.

As I recall, the services used by the community itself were Novus Ordo, something that to my mind would call its "Anglicanism" into question.

The big problem with the "love in" itself was that it was based totally on the fungibility concept: "We're all the same, we all believe the same things, so we should just get together", the same refrain we hear over and over and over again which completely overlooks facts and history. So, of course, nothing substantive was accomplished as everyone sat around stroking themselves for being so ecumenical.

(Well, "substantive" is in the eye of the beholder. The leadership of one "Continuing" group made notable contributions to the profitability of the Bowmore distillery, which may very well be a good thing in itself, and is unquestionably beneficial to the economy of the island of Islay, but that wasn't precisely why the meeting was called. Even so, I have always admired anyone who is a gentleman, a scholar, and a judge of good whiskey....)

After the meeting, I went home and wrote Abbot Morales a long letter, setting out a series of questions that I suggested each group represented there should answer for itself, in order to define its position on a number of key issues (women's "ordination"; use of the 1979 "Prayer Book" -- which was used at the principal service during the meeting; mutual obligations, if any, of those who consider themselves to be "in communion"; the possibilities for inter-church cooperation on insurance, clergy training and pensions, and Christian education; and on and on).

Then when "two or three ... gathered together", they could compare notes, each group presenting its own positions on those substantive issues, thus making no attempt to define for any other group what that other group's equivalent positions were/are.

I never received even an answer to that letter, let alone a discussion of my suggestions. This confirmed my already-formed impression that, as a unifier, the good Abbot was "all hat and no cattle", as they say in Texas.

And, as Fr. Anderson's comment rather implied, at the end of the day all that came out of that first meeting, coupled with its follow-up one (that I did not attend) was a grand-sounding manifesto in praise of an undefined "unity", but not one inch's movement toward any practical cooperation or work.

John A. Hollister+

J. Gordon Anderson said...

Thanks for that update, Canon. The Bartonsville thing definitely was "much-ado about nothing"!

A friend of mine gave up a good job and life to go there to become a brother and it practically ruined his spiritual life. He left and has barely been seen since. Pretty scary.