When I first came to Saint Meinrad Archabbey, I never thought I
would reprise my role as a software developer. That person is
supposed to be dead. I am now William (my religious name),
no longer Matthew (my baptismal name). But the reality is,
as Fr. Mark O'Keefe once put it, "as professed monks, the ghost of
our former self still haunts us."
While taking the monastic vows of obedience, fidelity to the
monastic way of life, and stability does indeed change us,we
are still who we are: imperfect, poor, stupid sinners. Some of
us come to the monastery to break away from that former self, only
to realize that that former self has followed us into the cloister.
This is probably a good thing.
Facing the reality that simply entering a monastery does not
automatically change you into a completely new person is precisely
what the novitiate is all about. You are brought face to face with
yourself. Your former trade, in my case software development, is
taken away from you, and instead you do housework. Through cleaning
toilets and mopping floors, the novice must learn to define himself
not by his work, but simply by the fact that he is a beloved
son of God.
This is scary. Really scary. It is completely foreign to our
culture in which we define ourselves by how we earn our living.
"What is your name?" is almost always immediately followed by "What
do you do for a living?" The culture of the cloister turns that
whole notion on its head, or at least it should.
Having recently passed through the first great trial of monastic
life, the novitiate, I have been given back my former trade. It is
received with mixed emotions. While writing software was, and still
is, something that gives me great joy and a sense of excitement,
there is a temptation there once again to let myself be defined by
Br. Francis Wagner, in our pre-novitiate retreat, told us, "The
most important thing a monk does is pray." I think this is a key
point when we, as monks, consider our work within the monastery.
Our work is secondary to our prayer. I am a monk who happens to
write software. Writing software is just what I do, but it is not
who I am.
When Br. John Mark Falkenhain asked me to write an Honor Your
Inner Monk prayer app, I was initially skeptical. Quite honestly, I
wasn't really sure what I was getting into, and didn't have a lot
of confidence that I would actually be able to see his vision
I had never written an app before, although I did have several
years' worth of programming experience and thought I would at least
look into the possibility. This is actually quite indicative of
monastic living; it will push you to try things you have never done
It's somewhat ironic though, isn't it? I mean, a monastery
producing a mobile app? Who would have thought? But this is
something that I love about Saint Meinrad Archabbey, namely, that
we are willing to embrace the latest technologies to spread the
Gospel of Christ as lived through monasticism. As a Church, and as
a monastery, connecting to others in whatever way we can to spread
the love of Christ is exactly what we are called to do.
As soon as I learn to define myself not by my work, but by the
simple fact that I am a beloved son of God, spreading the love of
Christ becomes a much easier task.