Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church


by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB



"He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected."

Rule of St. Benedict: 31:10-11

Recently, I was making my way back to the monastery after directing a retreat at another location far, far away. I was flying into Philadelphia, where I was to catch a connecting flight to Louisville and drive the last leg of my trip home to Saint Meinrad.

Looking out the window of the plane on what was a fairly cloudless day, I noticed something very disturbing - a layer of brown dirty soot, the pollution that hovers over metro-Philadelphia at a certain altitude.

It reminds anyone who cares to think about it how much damage we human beings continually do to the planet, or to use an image from Pope Francis, how we treat "our common home," which he says "is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us" (from Laudato Si, an encyclical letter published in the spring of 2015).

Though it's certainly not the first time I'd seen air pollution when flying into a large metropolitan area of the United States, it nonetheless still disturbs me to see it. We breathe that crud!

When I was in graduate school in Rome, I used to take long walks into the central part of the ancient city. I'd spend most of a Saturday walking and wandering about, taking in the sites and soaking up the history. As I'd make my way back to my residence, I'd notice how irritated my nasal passages had become.

When I would blow my nose - and I recall how startled I was the first time this happened to me - I noticed that what I blew into my handkerchief was discolored black like coal dust, which was caused by the soot that I'd sucked into my air passages as I spent the day out in the city. Yuck!  

Monks have for centuries located their monasteries in rural areas. The need to support themselves financially in an agrarian economy required lands to cultivate - forests and farm acreage. Today, our monastic economy is no longer centered on agriculture, though here, as at many monastic communities in the USA, we still own much of what used to be our arable crop acreage.

Rather than continue to farm that land, because we monks aren't skilled farmers anymore, we decided some years ago to reforest our croplands as a way to be better stewards of the environment. I am personally very pleased about that.

All the earth belongs to God (Exodus 9:29 and 19:5; Job 41:11; Ps. 24:1) so it is vitally important that we care for it. We monks strive to cultivate an attitude not unlike what St. Benedict expected of his monastery cellarer, whom in Chapter 31 of the Rule is reminded he will be held accountable on the day of judgment for taking care of the least among us - the sick, the guests and the poor - as well as the monastic property, which he must regard as sacred!

"Nothing is to be neglected" in our stewardship of what belongs to God, for we are given "dominion" over the creation, our home, and entrusted with its care (cf. Gen: 1:26-28).

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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.