Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Your Work Doesn't Define You



When I first came to Saint Meinrad Archabbey, I never thought I would reprise my role as a software developer. That person is supposed to be dead. I am now William (my religious name), no longer Matthew (my baptismal name). But the reality is, as Fr. Mark O'Keefe once put it, "as professed monks, the ghost of our former self still haunts us."

While taking the monastic vows of obedience, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and stability does indeed change us,we are still who we are: imperfect, poor, stupid sinners. Some of us come to the monastery to break away from that former self, only to realize that that former self has followed us into the cloister. This is probably a good thing.

Facing the reality that simply entering a monastery does not automatically change you into a completely new person is precisely what the novitiate is all about. You are brought face to face with yourself. Your former trade, in my case software development, is taken away from you, and instead you do housework. Through cleaning toilets and mopping floors, the novice must learn to define himself not by his work, but simply by the fact that he is a beloved son of God.

This is scary. Really scary. It is completely foreign to our culture in which we define ourselves by how we earn our living. "What is your name?" is almost always immediately followed by "What do you do for a living?" The culture of the cloister turns that whole notion on its head, or at least it should.

Having recently passed through the first great trial of monastic life, the novitiate, I have been given back my former trade. It is received with mixed emotions. While writing software was, and still is, something that gives me great joy and a sense of excitement, there is a temptation there once again to let myself be defined by it.

Br. Francis Wagner, in our pre-novitiate retreat, told us, "The most important thing a monk does is pray." I think this is a key point when we, as monks, consider our work within the monastery. Our work is secondary to our prayer. I am a monk who happens to write software. Writing software is just what I do, but it is not who I am.

When Br. John Mark Falkenhain asked me to write an Honor Your Inner Monk prayer app, I was initially skeptical. Quite honestly, I wasn't really sure what I was getting into, and didn't have a lot of confidence that I would actually be able to see his vision realized.

I had never written an app before, although I did have several years' worth of programming experience and thought I would at least look into the possibility. This is actually quite indicative of monastic living; it will push you to try things you have never done before.

It's somewhat ironic though, isn't it? I mean, a monastery producing a mobile app? Who would have thought? But this is something that I love about Saint Meinrad Archabbey, namely, that we are willing to embrace the latest technologies to spread the Gospel of Christ as lived through monasticism. As a Church, and as a monastery, connecting to others in whatever way we can to spread the love of Christ is exactly what we are called to do.

As soon as I learn to define myself not by my work, but by the simple fact that I am a beloved son of God, spreading the love of Christ becomes a much easier task.

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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.