BR. WILLIAM: What's the name of our quiz show?
BR. JOEL: Um, "Echoes from the Bell Tower Quiz Edition"?
BR. KOLBE: This is Echoes from the Bell Tower.
BR. JOEL: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks, who live, work and pray in southern Indiana. We're you're hosts, Br. Joel Blaize,
BR. KOLBE: and Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski.
BR. JOEL: This week we decided to answer some of the frequently asked questions we receive as monks.
BR. KOLBE: We have a panel of monks here to help answer these questions. Do you guys mind taking a moment to introduce yourselves?
FR. COLMAN: My name's Fr. Colman Grabert and I've been a monk at Saint Meinrad since 1960.
FR. NOEL: Hello, I'm Fr. Noël Mueller. I've been a monk of the abbey for 54 years. And presently, I'm one of the five deans of formation in the seminary.
FR. ADRIAN: Yes, I'm Fr. Adrian Burke and I have been here now going on 24 years since I made my profession back in 1996.
FR. CHRISTIAN: I'm Fr. Christian. I'm a monk of Saint Meinrad and I'm also a professor in our seminary. I teach theology.
BR. JOEL: Great, thank you for being here. Between these four monks, we have a huge wealth of knowledge with us. Br. William is also here to ask our frequently asked questions.
BR. KOLBE: Let's go ahead and get started. Br. William, first question please.
BR. WILLIAM: One of the biggest questions, you know people are just driving on the highway out here and they see this thing and they stop into the Guest House and they just ask, simply, "What is this place?" How would you respond to someone who just kind of waltzes in off the highway and says, "What is this place?"
FR. ADRIAN: Well, the first thing I say to people that wander in off the street and ask the question "What is this place?" is "Welcome and I'm glad you're here."
This place is Saint Meinrad Archabbey and we are a Benedictine monastery of men who have been living here since 1854, living a very serious Gospel-centered life. We live a life that is poor, that is obedient and that seeks to serve, and we are committed to one another for life.
So the work that we do here is always ordered to service, especially the Church, but also serving anybody who happens along. So you, as our guest, are always welcome to come and see us and to visit with us and to pray with us.
We really do believe that, as it says in our holyRule, we are to receive the guest as Christ. Not as if they were Christ, but as Christ. That's a major part of our charism and our spirituality.
FR. COLMAN: That's a great question. My first reaction is to say that it's not just a location. It's a way of life. That way of life is hard to describe as an atmosphere, but it's a culture. It's just a sense of things that permeates everything that goes on here. And it almost permeates the atmosphere, the buildings, the location, the hilltop.
BR. JOEL: Great, well thank you, Fr. Adrian and Fr. Colman. As we have mentioned in past podcast episodes, we are a Benedictine community of about 87 or so men, varying in age from their late 20s into the 90s.
BR. KOLBE: Br. William, I think we're ready for our next question.
BR. WILLIAM: When I'm out and I have to kind of tell people, "Well, I'm a monk," they say, "What's that? What is a monk?"
FR. ADRIAN: What is a monk? That's probably one of the most common questions I got when I used to do a lot of tour-giving when I was working in our guest house some years back. What is a monk? Well, you can look and see what a monk is. Around here, it's the guys wearing the black habits, we call them, the special garb of the monk.
FR. CHRISTIAN: Monk, that is a word that comes from the Greekmonos, which means "alone." And the first monks that got that name, they got it because they remained unmarried out of love for God, and because they set themselves apart from others in society, either as hermits living totally alone, or as cenobites, which meant that they were living apart from society but with a community of other people who were doing same thing.
And a monk is set apart in this way in order to dedicate himself in a particular way to prayer and to Christian service. "Seek God and serve the Church" is the motto of Saint Meinrad, and I think that expresses very well what a monk is.
FR. COLMAN: The most straightforward answer, and the most honest one, is a monk is defined by the person who lives it, and by the community that lives it.
Fundamentally, a monk is a person who has made a choice to follow Christ and to seek communion and union with God by eliminating from his life, the community's life, whatever could, in fact, distract from that. That includes not just wicked or evil things, but good things, and it's because of this single-hearted search for God that even good things are set aside.
BR. KOLBE: A monk's life is governed by a set of norms and rules. Here at Saint Meinrad we follow theRule of St. Benedict. TheRuleis designed to teach and enable us to overcome our outlandish wants, needs and desires, our false values, distractions, those kinds of things.
FR. COLMAN: So we talk about monks being under a rule and an abbot because that's what teaches us, and it's a teaching that goes on over the course of a lifetime.
BR. WILLIAM: Okay. I know what a priest is, I'm not sure I know what a monk is still, but what's the difference between a monk and a priest? Is there a difference?
FR. CHRISTIAN: Monks and nuns in the Catholic tradition, they commit to lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. Those are kind of the three ways of giving yourself back to God. Monks and nuns both do that. They both make those commitments. If they're Benedictine monks and nuns, then these commitments are expressed in the vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. Other orders take different vows.
BR. JOEL: Usually, Benedictine monks and nuns have some kind of apostolate or mission for the Church. Some religious orders work in hospitals, some work with youth, Saint Meinrad's apostolate is to run the Seminary and School of Theology and to prepare people for ministry in the Church.
FR. CHRISTIAN: Now, a priest is someone who's been ordained by a bishop to carry out a specific kind of service for God, a sacramental ministry for the service of the Church. By the fact of his ordination, a priest can do certain things like confect the Eucharist, consecrate the host, absolve sins in the name of Christ, as well as preach in the context of the Mass.
Most men who are priests are ordained for dioceses, to serve the people of the local Church. So the Diocese of Evansville has a man that wants to serve the Church in the local area of Evansville. They're going to send him to seminary. He's going to be ordained to serve that local Church.
Typically, these diocesan priests do a ministry in parishes like St. Mary's down the block that you knew growing up, but not all priests are diocesan priests. Strictly speaking, a priest is just somebody who's been ordained to carry out that sacramental ministry, and so it is possible to be a monk who is also a priest. In other words, so you're a monk, you make those vows we talked about earlier. You live in an intentional community, you gather to pray with this group, et cetera, but some of us monks are also ordained.
BR. WILLIAM: Monk and priest is to like husband and father. They're not mutually exclusive. You can be a monk and a priest or just a monk or just a priest. You can be a husband and a father or just a husband or just a father. I love that analogy.
BR. KOLBE: Well, because I think it's easy to understand.
BR. WILLIAM: Yeah, because you can be a priest without being a monk.
BR. KOLBE: Typically, monks who are priests carry out ministry somewhere besides a parish. There are a couple monks here who work in parishes, but most of the monk priests do that sacramental work for guests of Saint Meinrad or for our students or for our community as well.
BR. WILLIAM: The next question is usually, "Well, you know, your name's Brother William, his name's Father Colman. Are you both monks, or what's the difference?"
FR. COLMAN: We are certainly both monks, and that's an important point to make.
The fundamental commonality in a monastery is that we are brothers to each other in the monastic life, and our effort with each other is to support and encourage the long, hard development of the goal of monastic life, which is union with God.
FR. CHRISTIAN: We all come into the community being called brother, and even if you're ordained a priest, we still think of ourselves as brothers with the other monks. We remain a fraternity no matter what, but the ones who get ordained are often called Father as well.
Being a priest, people often look and they have a certain kind of set of assumptions. This is not what I believe; this is what I think goes through a lot of people's minds. "You wanted to be a priest, the big bad Church said you had to be a celibate, and because you are a celibate, you didn't want to be lonely and so you moved into a community with a bunch of people, and that's how you ended up in the monastery." Sometimes people have that attitude or that misconception, I think.
The brothers are really important because that doesn't fit, and because they're not priests, they become a different kind of symbol and sign in the Church. Their commitment in a way is even more clear because it says, "I didn't give up wife and family and spouse and lands and children so that I could have some office in the Church. I gave them up for Christ. I gave them up because God was worth it." And that is such a beautiful sign, a beautiful witness, and so we're very blessed to have that witness of the brothers.
Of course, what I just said there is true of priests, too, but because the brother monk is not a priest, all that is communicated in an even more clear way, I think.
BR. JOEL: That's a great point, Fr. Christian, thank you. Next question, please.
BR. WILLIAM: You mentioned the vows. Do monks make a vow of silence?
FR. NOEL: Silence, in a Benedictine context, we do not make a vow of silence. In fact, a good part of the day, especially for me, I'm an extrovert, is talking, but we all need moments of silence. Otherwise we cannot, I think, truly pray. Prayer is not only just what I say to God, but a crucial part of prayer is what God says to me.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Noel, would you mind explaining that just a little bit more?
FR. NOEL: In the world in which we live, which is extraordinarily noisy, creating silence is very important. But you know you might be in the most quiet place in the world, and if there's interior noise, then there's not silence. So, learning to quiet down ourselves is also crucial in the terms of silence.
FR. ADRIAN: Do monks make a vow of silence? Well, actually, no we don't. We don't make a vow of silence. What we do is commit to a life of conversion, which is to say we're going to surrender our will to the will of the community and live the way the community lives. One of the ways we live in our house, in our monastery, is by respecting and even revering silence.
There's an outward silence. When you go into our house, you'll notice how quiet it generally is. You walk through our corridors and really, literally, you can hear a pin drop if you were to drop one on the floor. Even when you do see monks engaging one another, often times, they're going to be doing so in quiet whispers.
The idea here is to respect the need for prayer and the need for recollection, a kind of reflective attentiveness so that we can really hear what God is saying to us in our hearts, or so that we can pay attention to the immediate needs of the moment as they unfold.
Though we don't make a vow to this, we do vowconversatioor conversion so that we embrace the way the community does things. And that's why we revere silence in the community because it's what the community insists we do in order to cultivate recollection.
BR. WILLIAM: That's like the best answer I've ever heard.
FR. ADRIAN: Well, thank you.
BR. KOLBE: It looks like we have one more question for you all to answer.
BR. WILLIAM: How does the monastery support itself financially?
FR. ADRIAN: The community supports itself financially in a lot of different ways. It's actually a very complex question. We have to support ourselves in some way if the community is going to thrive. In the early centuries of the Church, it was done through farming and, indeed, this monastery founded in 1854, that was the primary way we did it too. We opened a farm. We had hundreds of acres of farmland that we bought from local farmers and began immediately to cultivate the land.
We eventually had a full-blown fully operational diversified farm with livestock of all sorts. We had a dairy, we had a meat processing plant as well as arable lands. Eventually, though, by 1983 we had fewer and fewer incoming vocations that really knew how to operate a farm. We eventually closed the farm and decided to put our investments in other ways of raising funds or supporting ourselves.
By that time, though, we had another business that was fully operational, the Abbey Press. It, too, was a diversified business that ran a printing press and sold religious articles through a trade operation, a kind of religious articles wholesaler. Our primary customers were bookstores and Christian stores.
To make a long story short, the Abbey Press also has fallen on some hard times so the Abbey Press cannot, as it used to, supply for all of the financial needs of the institution. In fact, when I came here in the '90s to become a monk, the Abbey Press was easily supplying the financial needs for the entire institution.
Our other big operation here is our Seminary and School of Theology, but that doesn't make money insofar as operates as a for-profit institution. It's primarily understood to be a ministry for the Church to prepare future leaders for the Church, most especially ordained leaders. Priests, first of all, permanent deacons and then we have a program, too, for lay people to pursue graduate theology studies if they're interested in pursuing Church careers or for personal enrichment.
But the tuition and fees that we receive from these students or from the dioceses that send them to us does not cover all of the expenses. It covers only about 60%. The other 40% is made up by generous donors. These can be people from parishes, people that we go out and talk to or call on the phone during pledge drives, or major benefactors that want to contribute to the school in significant ways.
The other things that we do here at Saint Meinrad to help offset some of the expenses of operating the place is we own a small casket company. We sell caskets, we sell funerary urns and even a few other odds and ends sort of funerary items. It's not a huge business, but it certainly more than pays for itself. It's not going to pay all the bills, not by a long shot.
If you put all these things together, along with some things that some of the monks do to bring in some incomes, like for example, one of our monks is an artist and has a thriving stained glass window operation. That, too, is a fairly small business and it's not going to pay a lot of the bills.
Several of us go out and do retreat work for other clients off the scene and bring in some money. That isn't going to pay a lot of the bills either. But, when you put all of it together, it does offset a significant amount of the expenses. Whatever is left is coming in from donations, benefactors for the monastery, benefactors for the School of Theology or for both. That offsets the deficit in the budget every year.
BR. JOEL: Saint Meinrad has also invested wisely since the 70s and the Development Office helps raise funds to offset the day to day costs and to help Saint Meinrad plan for projects in the future, like needed renovations, building additions or replacements…things that are always a part of living in a real material world.
FR. ADRIAN: We monks have to face the same issues. Just like everybody else, like every other family living in a real world, we have to plan ahead and we have to invest wisely.
BR. KOLBE: And you have to remember it's not like we just built this place the other night. This took years to build all of these buildings and to build this type of life. I mean we started just like any place, very small. We were a garage band for a long time.
BR. WILLIAM: Now we're a house band.
BR. KOLBE: Fr. Colman, Fr. Adrian, Fr. Noel and Fr. Christian we'd like to thank you so much for being a part of this panel. And Br. William, thank you for asking us our frequently asked questions. Listeners, if you have a question you'd like us to answer on a future episode, you can send them to email@example.com.
BR. JOEL: That's Saint spelled out, SAINTMEINRAD.EDU
BR. KOLBE: Today's episode was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of our podcast team, Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.
BR. JOEL: If you'd like to learn more about the monks on our panel or listen to past episodes check out our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
BR. KOLBE: And don't forget to subscribe to Echoes from the Bell Tower on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating and review if you haven't yet.
BR. KOLBE: Hey guys…
Hey guys, hey guys, hey guys…
BR. KOLBE: Give me two seconds, I'm not saying that, by the way.