Paths of Life  by Br. Pierre Pratte, osb

These reflections were initiated by an article from a Benedictine Archbishop who concluded that somebody is a balanced person when his or her basic needs are met.  He did not enumerate those needs and I looked for a satisfying list.

                During my 10 years in charge of the monastery cows, I observed their physical needs.  When I became guest master, I could find psychological needs in people.  Still, we have needs of a spiritual dimension.  For years, most people told us that the basic needs were: food, clothing and shelter.  I know  a lot of people who have plenty of food and clothing and shelters (houses) and feel miserable and unfulfilled.

                I observed 3 phenomena among people and animals as the source of our needs: growth, relationship and security.  Around cows and sheep, we observe that a newborn will look for a nipple within 5 minutes.  The bonding process will occur with whoever feeds him, a mother-ewe or a shepherd with a milk bottle.  An aspect of bonding consists in being present in some ways to maintain a relationship.  For most couples, their sexual union will express their commitment and their participation in the work of creation.  Whenever a strange noise or a stranger appears, the young run to their mother for security.  As a person develops, the physical needs have an element of freedom to select food, a mate and a source of income to secure their old age.

              Once the body is relatively satisfied, the mind asks for knowledge.  Information is not lacking with books, TV, radio, newspapers and computer.  We need ways of processing the data.  At this level, we have the need to belong to a group or form a family.  Even though many families have all they need for a decent living, they worry about the value of their wealth and have to consider the integrity of their lives.  Financial and natural disasters can make them loose their material securities; but no one can make them loose their wealth of virtues.

              When we think we know  a lot with all kinds of degrees, there is a yearning to know more about the divine.  Faith allows us to accept the mystery of God who provides through his Son in the Holy Spirit.  The spiritual masters speak of a mystical union with God.  The psalmist says: "I thirst for God, the living God, when will I be at last, face to face with my God."  Our spiritual security is often called 'a return to paradise'.  Our heavenly home awaits those who believe in an after-life where holiness and wholeness is assured.  The Gnostics despised the body and concentrated their energies on the mind.  The true Christian tries to integrate the soul and the body after the example of Christ in view of the resurrection.
Physical Psychological Spiritual
Growth Food Knowledge  Faith
Relationship Bonding/Sex Belonging Union
Security Possessions Virtues Kingdom
Age and Color

              Various needs surface at different stages of life,  I like to use colors and their meanings to accentuate the phases of life.  Greek doctors thought that a new life was formed out of the menstrual blood (red). The first nourishment of the fetus comes from the mother's blood until the naval cord is cut off.  In infancy, we see a rapid development of the child who seems  in constant motion in his waking hours.  In sheep, the lamb can gain 80 pounds in 3 months.  The red color on a meter shows high wavelengths.  The yellow color symbolises caution and change while we learn tons of information and, hopefully, be ready to face life with its challenge.  The sexual drive can become problematic if instruction is not accompanied with education.  Adulthood is a green area when money is a concern in order to form a family.  It is often a time to return to God after some years of independence or rebellion against the establishment.  Maturity is a long process when we can accept the will of God and develop more virtues with calm and serenity.  We try to come closer to the image and likeness of God.  As our body weakens, our soul contemplate the mysterious paths that leads to the heavenly home, the peaceable (blue) kingdom.

Needs and Vows

                  The monastic vows are meant to control our instincts: power, pleasure and possessions in order to become free for the practice of the love command. Obedience is a listening to God who can fulfill our mind in search of meaning.  The conversion of life (conversio morum) is a turning away from our selfish ways towards God.  The vow of stability was introduced at the time of St. Benedict to reduce the number of wandering (false) monks.  Stability is a form of security where we share life with other monks seeking the same ideal.

Needs and Virtues

                 One of the first song I learnt in English said: "Faith, hope and charity; that's the way to live successfully.  How do I know?  The Bible tells me so."  The hope for a better life applies to our growth.  True charity begins with the self: self-experience, self-knowledge.  Generosity towards others brings joy and a sense of cooperating in God's creation.  Without faith, it is easy to have spells of anxiety and insecurity.

Needs and Monastic Activities

                 St. Benedict invites the monks to practice moderation.  Medieval monks led a life close to nature.  Their manual work helped them maintain a healthy body.  Their intellectual pursuits made them long for the truth.  Their private and public prayer made them dialogue with God and contemplate his wisdom as an anticipation of the "after-life" which is life eternal.


               I tried to classify those words that are thrown around in our daily living and loose much of their meaning.  Life is a journey with obstacles due to human weakness.  Even in a monastery, the challenge to maintain a virtuous life does not slacken.  We need God's help "to bear most patiently one another's infirmities" (St. Benedict).

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Issued 8/20/97       Comments to Br. Pierre