Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Prayer as a Way of Life

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB


The monastic community at Saint Meinrad Archabbey gathers for prayer in the Archabbey Church five times every day. In addition to that, individually the monks are to dedicate time daily for spiritual reading (referred to aslectio divina) and for private prayer or meditation.

So it may seem obvious to you that a core value of Benedictine monastic life is prayer, but what may not be so obvious iswhythat is so. Why be so dedicated to an activity that seems so "unproductive," so other-worldly and seemingly disengaged with our practical working world?

In the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict, there are many chapters dedicated to the organization of the community's common prayer - what we monks call the "office," a word that in the Latin implies duty or obligation.

St. Benedict thought the monastic office was of central importance and so he used a lot of ink writing about how it ought to be organized. The term "office" also suggests why we consider the community's prayer as a first duty, because our common praise of God is something we owe to God, truly a duty in that sense.

The monastic office is also a way of expressing that our love for God ranks above all else. In fact, Benedict writes elsewhere in the Rule that the monk must "let nothing be preferred to the work of God."

The "work of God," in Latin opus Dei, is another term that refers to the monastic office, or community prayer. It is work ordered directly to honoring God, praising God.

And, in addition to the many services that constitute the Opus Dei, the Rule is also concerned that the monks individually make room in their day for holy reading.

This prayerful reading of the Bible is called lectio divina, and is a kind of praying with Scripture in which the monk "listens carefully" to the teachings of the Lord in all its aspects - literal, moral and spiritual - as the Word of God speaks to the heart of the monk through the human words of the sacred texts.

In Chapter 4 of his Rule, St. Benedict lists the monk's essential tools of the trade - attitudes and actions really - that they should cultivate as fundamental to living in pursuit of God, the primary purpose of the monastic life.

In the very center of the chapter, Benedict writes that each monk is to "listen readily to holy reading and devote yourself often to prayer." A little earlier in that same chapter, Benedict reminds the monk that his "ways of acting should be different from the world's way," and the second half of the sentence underscores the primary attitude of the monk: "the love of Christ must come before all else."

Another way of understanding that "tool" in practical terms is that the monk must do everything as an act of loving Christ. Clearly, loving God above all else entails living in a manner that is distinct from the world's ways.

Our life of prayer is, then, one of the primary ways we monks demonstrate that our motives and our ways are distinctly different from other, more worldly institutions or corporations.

Prayer trains the heart to "listen carefully to the teachings of the Master," who is Christ. A heart well steeped in prayer is better able to be attentive to what is really going on inside one's self and in the circumstances of the moment, the here and now.

It is so important for all of us to be attentive to the reality of any situation - to see things as they truly are - if we are to be responsive in a way that builds up what is good, and that contributes to the well-being of others and promotes in every way the mission of Saint Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary and School of Theology to love and serve God by serving the Church.

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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.