A number of articles have appeared recently, reporting as a new phenomenon, the fact that people are turning to monasteries as an escape from the tensions of modern life. It is both somewhat amusing and somewhat annoying since St. Benedict, writing about the reception of guests in the 6th century, notes as an aside that monasteries are never without guests.
The vast majority of guests had no intention of becoming monks, but they came - and still come for much the same reasons as the monks do. They come to re-focus their lives, to deepen their faith and re-awaken their hope and confidence that they are on their way to the Kingdom of God.
That has certainly been our experience in the 50 years of the existence of Mount Saviour. Many people are reluctant to come to a monastery. Once they get here, they very often want to stay longer. As a rule, they don't have the time then or we don't have space available. For those very reasons, we instituted Life Together in the late 1960's. It was a two week program with men and women, sisters and priests. When Notre Dame University instituted a credit course in the non-violent resolution of human conflict, we were asked to help with a 'practicum' where the students could live in a non-violent context. We set up a 10 week program with the men students living inside the cloister and taking part in the prayer, work and life of the community. When Notre Dame discontinued the credit course, we were forced to discontinue our program as well. However, ten years ago, Dr. Anthony Cernera, President of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield Ct. and Fr. Michael Perry, then Chaplain at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn encouraged us to have a five week live-in program based to the ones that were successful in the past. The participants are Roman Catholic men between 21-35 yrs of age who intend to remain laymen. They live within the monastery and join in the life of the monastery -choir, meals, work and recreation. Classes in scripture, spirituality, liturgy and theology are held in the mornings and the participants join in the work of the monks in the afternoon.
The place or role of a monastery in the Church and the world is probably best expressed by St. Augustine. Robert A. Markus' account in his book The End of Ancient Christianity, Canto Edition 1998 deserves an extended excerpt since it helps to show why a program like ours is a benefit to lay persons - and why a monastery is highly regarded by its guests. pgs 79-83. In his long controversy with the Donatists over the nature of the Church and its relation to the unredeemed world Augustine had come to relinquish the image of the Church as a spiritual elite set in the world. Like any other society of men, it was irretrievably tinged with sin and contained within itself both the City of God and the earthly City, inextricably interwoven. Only at the end, beyond their historical careers, would the two Cities be distinct, made visible in their separate realities by the divine judgment. The Church is for ever caught in the escapable tension between what it is here and now, and what it shall be: qualis nunc est, qualis tunc erit.
The monastic life displays, in a special way, the Church's calling to be the perfect community which can be realized only in the City of God qualis tunc erit, beyond history. It is a privileged anticipation of the Church's eschatological realization. The Church could be no alternative society in which men could take refuge from the dislocated and tension-torn society in which it was, always and inevitably, placed; but the monastery was called to be a visible anticipation, a showing forth here and now, of the shape of the society that would be embodied in the Church in its final state....
The bonds between men had become drastically dislocated, no human group could hope to escape the tension and disorder which was endemic in the society of Adam's heirs. But the monastery, though not exempt from the universal human condition, was the nearest that men could get to a society in which the bonds between its members were restored to their original integrity. To become a monk was to undertake a commitment to uphold an image of social cohesion different from that of society - even a Christian society, if such were possible - at large. It was to associate with others on a basis of free rational decision, to take on obligations which would conform to the Pauline command to owe no man anything but to love one another (Rom. 13,8), and transform all duties into works of love.
The monastery embodies this 'sociological function of the love of God'. In shifting the emphasis from asceticism to the renewal of unspoiled human relationships as the core of the monastic life, Augustine focused a direction already implicit in the development of fourth-century spirituality. This shift of emphasis towards the values of communal living and the virtues which foster it, embarked Western monasticism on the road which leads to Benedict.
To become a monk now came to mean more than the adoption of a new personal identity. To undergo 'conversio' to the monastic calling was at the same time to proclaim the possibility of a new social identity.
This was the image of a society... constituted by the free association of its members to create a community of love, ruled by humility not power, living in concord without exploitation. In the monastic community the shape of the final society of the saints was made actually visible, to the extent that it could be anticipated on earth. Its existence here and now proclaimed a permanent challenge to all other forms of social existence, a question mark placed against the structures of domination inherent in the society of fallen men, an ideal Augustine held up to his lay congregations to imitate in 'building the temple of God'. The monastery was a living proclamation of a social organization alternative to that of any possible form of association of human beings in large-scale societies, liberated from their tragic 'necessities'. Augustine's re-definition of the monastic ideal is drawn in terms of a new kind of society and the meaning of new human relationships within it.
Augustine's re-interpretation of the monastic life is rooted in the
development of his own theology; it also reflects the development
within the monastic and ascetic tradition. In turn, Augustine's re-evaluation
of that tradition helped to open monasticism to the demands of the
ecclesial community and strengthened the forces which led to its integration in the life of the Church.
It is our intention that the brief 5 week Summer Program will
contribute to the participants beginning understanding of the relationships
between their own future communities -family, occupational associations,
parish, the Church and society at large. It is a very big order and
it is a very good beginning.
It takes courage to urge our young people to attack the pockets of poverty in their inner spiritual life but that is precisely what is necessary if they are to lead effective Christian lives. We need to find God in the depths of our hearts.Back to home page email@example.com Fr. Martin
Fr. Martin Boler, osb
I discovered Mt. Saviour as a special place when I came here on retreat in the summer of 1972 as a student from Fordham. That experience had a major impact on my life. It gave me a firm grounding in my faith and allowed me to explore the Rule of Benedict as a spirituality that made sense in the world. Ever since then I have wanted to be able to help provide a similar opportunity to give back something to my brothers here.
Dr. Anthony Cernera
I have spent seven years and thirty thousand dollars to get an education, but that was just sowing the seed. In five weeks the sun and the rain came - for free: sheer gift and I have an insight into what it can mean to know what is real in life.
Mark Mazziotti, 1990