It was a lovely late-summer morning; the air was relatively dry
and cool for early September and the sky was the color of a
Caribbean seascape. That morning, after a meeting in the business
office, I took a walk to see how the new gazebo on the hill above
was progressing. I have loved that spot ever since becoming a monk
in 1992 when, as a novice, I discovered that breezy location as a
great place to spend time in prayer, or just to find some peace and
As I stood on the cement platform over which the new gazebo had
been raised, facing south, I was caressed by warm, soft breezes,
and I found it as restful as I ever have in the past. Looking out
over the Anderson River valley, I noted the fields which, in the
past, used to be planted in beans or corn, but today have lots of
young trees growing in them and lots of wild flora species as
What contributes to the sense of "specialness" people say they
feel about Saint Meinrad Archabbey is the tranquility they
experience while visiting, and what I believe grounds this sense of
peace is the beautiful rural landscape that is so much a part of
the St. Meinrad experience.
The fields, streams and woods of the surrounding landscape, the
rolling hills and farm fields, along with the wildlife occasionally
spotted on campus, such as deer and turkeys, foxes and hedgehogs,
provide a natural backdrop that prompts us human beings to remember
that we are not above the created order, but very much at
home in nature because we are part of it.
You may think this seems more resonant of a "Franciscan"
spirituality, but from the beginnings of monasticism, since the
time of St. Anthony in the early fourth century, monastic men and
women have tended to establish their monasteries in remote
locations - even as remote as lonely islands or deep, mountaintop
forests. So when monks came to America in the middle-19th century from Europe, they
landed in rural places, far away from any substantial town or
Environmental stewardship is an important and often overlooked
part of monastic spirituality, and an important monastic value. I
feel it's vital to reconnect with this value in our times of
concern over climate change and sustainability, as natural
resources continue to be threatened by development and
In the first creation story found in the Book of Genesis, God
fashions humankind in the divine image and likeness. Along with
that dignity, God gives to man and woman shared responsibility over
creation, exercising "dominion," the text reads, "over all the fish
of the sea, the birds of the air, over the cattle and all the wild
animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps
upon the earth" (Gen 1:26).
Ecological concern is fostered by Benedictine spirituality,
which places accountability near the top of its list of
essential values. But concern for the environment is something all
of us should share today, whether the land you call home is a small
apartment, a house, or a 40-acre farm. Though you would be hard
pressed to find explicit mention of ecological stewardship in the
Rule of St. Benedict, it has been argued that the key
Benedictine values of humility, stability and frugality provide an
ethical foundation for our tradition of stewardship of the
Humility demands that we "keep the fear of the Lord ever before
our eyes" and "constantly remember everything God has commanded"
(Rule of St. Benedict 7:10-11). As stewards of God's
creation we must act in the likeness of God-"let us recall that we
are always seen by God" (RB 7:13) and will be held
accountable for our actions. Loving the world God loves (cf. John
3:16), we care for the land and its resources as intentional
Christians dedicated to God's ways.
Fr. Terence Kardong, a monk of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota,
has suggested that, "Those who live in a place have the biggest
stake in it." I agree. Part of what it means to be stable is to be
rooted in a place: to make one's home in a particular place, with a
specific group of people. Indiana is where we have made our home as
monks of St. Meinrad, and many share this place with us as
neighbors living in the area.
True monks, according to St. Benedict's 6th century
rule, do not wander from place to place, seeking their own wills,
but commit to a community and settle down in one place. Stability
invites us to know the place well, to appreciate and cultivate our
environment so we can leave it better off than when we found it.
I've always enjoyed learning new things about the local species of
plants, trees and animal life; to really know the place in
which I live makes me feel that I belong here.
Monks are to be frugal. St. Benedict directs that the
distribution of goods are according to need, and to be satisfied
with what we have. Even in terms of food and drink, Benedict quotes
Luke, "take care your hearts are not weighed down with
overindulgence" and mandates that "frugality is the rule"
(RB 39:9-10). This is the spirit with which we should
approach the care of our environment as well. Taking only what we
need, not willfully exploiting resources until there is nothing
left for future generations or until the land (or sea for that
matter!) is stripped of its capacity to support life.
We are all accountable as stewards of creation. Each of us plays
a small part in the responsible care of the environment. When we
turn off lights when not in a room, turn up the thermostat (or
down!) a few degrees, carpool, cease burning our trash, plant trees
and recycle, as well as stay informed about the issues, we make a
difference and contribute to the Godly stewardship of the
environment that our Creator expects of us.