What is a Benedictine Monk?
A Benedictine monk is a Catholic man who has come to seek God in community under the guidance of an abbot and The Rule of St. Benedict. Once in the monastery, the monk strives to learn in the “school of the Lord’s service” by living out the monastic vows of stability, obedience, and coversatio morum.
What is the difference between a monk and a priest?
One comes to the monastery to live the life of a monk—a life of seeking God through prayer and work in a community. Some of the monks at St. Bernard Abbey are ordained priests and others are not. But we are all monks and are all brothers in the community. Those monks who are ordained celebrate the sacraments for the monastic community, our school, and a few parishes and are involved in local pastoral work. Unlike a diocesan (secular) priest, a monk who is also a priest ordinarily lives at the monastery (not a parish) and contributes to the work of the Church there. However, currently two of our monks serve as pastors to parishes in the Diocese of Birmingham.
What are vows?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God … an act of devotion in which the Christian dedicates himself to God or promises him some good work. By fulfilling his vows he renders to God what has been promised and consecrated to Him (CCC 2102).
What vows do Benedictine monks make?
Traditionally, those who are seeking to live out a religious vocation are required by the Code of Canon Law to take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—also known as the evangelical counsels (Can. 654). However, for monks of the Order of St. Benedict, the vows which are taken are:
- Stability—while there may be many Benedictine monasteries throughout the world, a monk makes this vow to a particular community in a given location. For St. Benedict, the communal life was a training ground in which the monk was built up for the spiritual battle.
- Obedience—in a Benedictine monastery, the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ; therefore, when one does the will of the abbot he is doing the will of God (RB 2). By the relinquishment of our own self-will, we are capable of learning what it truly means to be free and humble rather than self-centered and prideful.
- Coversatio Morum—roughly translated as “conversion to a monastic manner of life,” this vow calls us to be continually transformed into a life that is centered and shaped by God. It is here in which the other two evangelical counsels of poverty (the giving up of private ownership) and celibate chastity are met since the radical orientation of ones life to the will of God presupposes their practice.
What do monks do?
Simply put, the Benedictine motto of “Ora et Labora” (“Pray and Work”) defines the life of a monk. Ora—for a monk, prayer is not just a private encounter with the Lord. Rather, by living a life of communal prayer, monks serve the universal Church by acting as the official “pray-ers” of the Church. Daily, the monks of St. Bernard participate in the celebration of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the chanting of the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), and practice the ancient form of scriptural meditation known as Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). Labora—the types of works that monks may engage in throughout their life in the monastery can and will vary greatly. While the traditional apostolate of our abbey has been always been our school, the life of any monastery necessitates a wide range of jobs and talents from its monks. Currently at St. Bernard, monks are engaged in working in the famous Ave Maria Grotto, serving as guest masters of our retreat center, teaching in our preparatory school, grounds maintenance, baking bread, candle making, tailoring, or barbering. Additionally, monks who are ordained priests help in nearby parishes, especially with Sunday Masses. And further still, some of our monks are involved in academic studies.
Do monks have fun?
Recreation is a vital part of the monastic life, and indeed any human life. Each day, there is a formal period for community recreation after supper, during which monks congregate in the community room and enjoy coffee, conversation, and perhaps a board game. But monks also enjoy times of informal recreation, together and alone, during their free time, such as walks on our many trails, bicycling, running, etc. Typically, there is a weekly movie night at the monastery. On some civil holidays, the community spends the day at a nearby lake. These are just some of the ways monks incorporate the important element of leisure into their lives.
Do monks ever see their friends and family?
Yes. Though it varies from monastery to monastery, monks at St. Bernard Abbey may receive personal guests fairly often (there are some restrictions on this during the postulancy and novitiate). St. Bernard monks also are allowed a yearly home visit or vacation to spend time with loved ones and travel.
Am I allowed to come for a visit?
According to the Rule of St. Benedict, “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ” (RB 53). Therefore, hospitality is to be considered an essential characteristic of the Benedictine monastery. If you would like to simply come and make a private retreat at the abbey, arrangements can be made by contacting our guest master. But those who may be wishing to discern a monastic vocation while on retreat should contact our vocation director.
Fr. Joel Martin, O.S.B.
Br. Bernard Denson, O.S.B.
(256) 255-5801 |