Mutual Support

Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB
Thursday, November 2, 2023

"Brothers sent on a journey will ask the abbot and the community to pray for them.
All absent brothers should always be remembered at the closing prayer of the Work of God."
Rule of Saint Benedict 67:2-3

Sometimes monks need to travel. At times for personal reasons—visiting family, vacation, taking care of an ailing parent—sometimes for ministry, or for academic and professional reasons. I travel frequently to do retreat work at other locations, to cover parish Masses when a pastor needs to be away, or to promote our school’s formation programs. When I am away, it’s nice to know that I will be missed, not in any sentimental way, but just that my absence is noticed by my confreres. I know this to be the case because when I return, I am often greeted by confreres with a gentle “Welcome home” - a simple gesture that warms my heart!

My confreres don’t always ask me where I was—it’s not really important to them—but to note my return and welcome me home is enough. No need to explain myself, to justify my absence, and it’s good on my part to simply say support is a grace, and in a culture where many people are experiencing feelings of isolation and disconnection. I think it’s also an important way we monks conscientiously witness to the value of staying connected in community, a word that literally means “being one, together.”

St. Benedict instructs his monks to pay prayerful attention and be mindful of confreres who are away from the monastery for a time—to notice their absence and solicit God’s protection and support for them in prayer. This simple way of remembering absent brothers, and the knowledge that when we travel, we are being remembered, makes us feel “connected.” To belong to a fellowship of others gives purpose and meaning to our individual lives.

Lately, in this (almost) “post-pandemic” world, feeling of isolation and disconnection have surfaced in many people I accompany in spiritual direction. Some speak of feeling “burned out”, a general lack of motivation, while others describe a sense of lethargy, disinterest or indifference regarding work or school, and relationships, even family!

Burnout is not always the result of working too hard, or being spread too thin, it can sometimes be rooted in a lost sense of purpose. To regain that, we must first turn to God and recenter ourselves on God’s presence as the ground and source of our vocation and purpose. Then, we turn to others to find community, where one can know the mutual support needed to experience the inter-dependent nature of being human.

When I feel isolated, tired out, worn thin and lonely, I know God is calling me to recenter, reconnect, and engage my community’s support. On my part, I must make it a daily discipline to remember my brothers who are away from the community and ask God’s Spirit to keep us connected, one to another.

We need each other! St. Paul says, In Christ, we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another (Romans 12:5). A genuinely Christian community is a concrete realization of the spiritual, sacramental reality of being human as God intends us to be. Through this particular community I experience “being one together” in Christ, for where two or three gather in my name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Belonging to Christ is our purpose, and everything we do must stem from that purpose.