"Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God," St. Benedict
says in his Rule (Chapter 43:3). In the monastery each
day, the monks arise before dawn and keep silence until the bells
summon everyone into the church to chant the Liturgy of the Hours
for Vigils and Lauds. The first words spoken for the day are in
unison and directed toward God: "O Lord, open my lips and my mouth
shall proclaim your praise" (Psalm 51:17).
Before any business or conversation for the day in conducted,
the monk is immersed in God's Word so that it may shape his prayer,
work, and community life. At regular intervals throughout each day,
the monk returns to this time of prayer-in the spoken and chanted
Word, in the Eucharist, inlectio divina,in the depth of his heart,
and in spiritual counsel. Prayer is the first and last work of the
day for the monk, and what guides, sustains, and completes all
St. Benedict's Rule is not a complex treatise on contemplation.
Rather, it is a practical and adaptable framework for monks to
center their time and being in God's presence-in prayer, work, and
community life. No matter what we are doing, or how busy we are, we
are called back every few hours to the church for our common
And we have two specific periods each day-one in the morning and
one in the evening-set aside for personal prayer and lectio
divina or sacred reading. When the bells announce these
periods, the faithful monk goes, and leaves everything else behind
(physically if not always mentally).
"Monastic life is not difficult-it's relentless," former
novice-master Fr. Harry Hagan, is fond of saying. No matter what
else we do, our ordered round of prayer continually calls us back
to listen and respond to the Word of God, who is the center of our
lives. Over a lifetime, this rhythm of listening and responding to
the Word slowly becomes part of us, reshapes who we are, and flows
out to encompass all of life.
We bring our lives to prayer, and our prayer to our lives. With
God's Word permeating our lives, we are confronted with ourselves
and extended beyond them into the life of the wider Church and
world. It is relentlessly full of grace.