Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Benedictine Spirituality and You

by Ruth Clifford Engs

Some people think that monks who live in monastic communities, such as Saint Meinrad Archabbey, spend the whole day praying in church or in their cells (rooms). However, just like most everyone else today, monks are very busy people doing their assigned and chosen work for a normal eight-hour workday.

Monks today work in a variety of jobs that are also found outside the monastery. These include being professors, writers, editors, artists, musicians, psychologists, printing press and business office managers and workers, computer experts in the IT department, delivering mail and attending classes. They also minister to guests, are pastors in local parishes, and minister to the poor and incarcerated in nearby communities.

This work is important in a Benedictine community, such as Saint Meinrad Archabbey, along, of course, with prayer. The basis of Benedictine spirituality is a balance between prayer and work, termed ora et labora, with prayer coming first.

It is practiced all over the world by Benedictine monks and lay members of Benedictine communities called "oblates." Oblates include lay women and men, diocesan priests and a few seminary and theology students, who live their normal, daily lives in the secular world rather than in a monastery.

Oblates attempt to pray at least the morning and evening Divine Office, also called Liturgy of the Hours, which is a reading of psalms slated for that day, generally in private. They also read from the Rule, compiled by St. Benedict, the sixth-century monk who founded the Benedictine order. This Rule is a blueprint for living a God-centered and balanced life. However, one does not need to be a monk or nun, or even an oblate of a community, to pray the psalms or read from the Rule.

In the Archabbey Church, the daily Office, or prayer cycle, includes early morning prayer (Vigils and Lauds) before breakfast, noon prayer before lunch, Vespers (evening prayer) before dinner, and Compline before bed. Oblates in the world generally do not have the luxury of time for all of these daily prayer times.

The monks, however, embrace this cycle of prayer along with their work and recreation. Yes, the monks have fun and do a variety of recreational activities, just like people in the outside world. They work out to keep fit, play cards and other games, read, play golf, keep bees and hobby flower and vegetable gardens, do art and craft work, and watch sports on TV. They also have vacation time, when they often travel or visit family.

Another aspect of Benedictine spirituality is hospitality. That is why Benedictine monastic communities are friendly and guests are always welcome to visit. The Benedictine oblate also attempts to live his or her life by being friendly and respectful of all people they encounter. As the old saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Prayer, work and hospitality go a long way to help live a balanced life, which many people report gives them purpose and meaning in today's harried and stressful world.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.