The Unitive Principle of Love

Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB
Thursday, August 17, 2023

"The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these
tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability
in the community.
Rule of St. Benedict 4:78

When I was a seminarian in our school studying for the diocesan priesthood (when I came to the Hill in 1990 I was affiliated with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis), the first thing that made an impression on me was, well, the monks. I had never met a monk before. I had seen the occasional brown-robed Franciscan friar in Indy, but never a black-robed Benedictine monk.

Several of these "men in black" were to be my teachers, and a few became mentors and friends, and already from those earliest days on the Hill I felt I had met the kind of men who would show me how to be a serious follower of Christ, which was why I decided to pursue the priesthood in the first place - to be "all in" as a disciple of Jesus.

Every day the ringing of the church bells was a steady reminder to me of how the monks valued the daily round of liturgical prayer. (I lived on the fourth floor of Benet Hall and my window faced directly on the south bell tower, so I got a full dose of bells every day!)

I went over to the Abbey Church occasionally to join the monastic community praying Vespers, the evening prayer, and as I listened to the chant and observed the community praying together, it was easy to see that though monks come in all shapes and sizes - skinny monks, fat monks, short and tall monks, young and old, healthy and frail monks - they all prayed together as having one voice, because they all had one purpose for being there: to praise God! Their unity was underscored by their uniform - that distinctive black garment with the loose "wings" in front and back (the scapular), that on breezy days made them seem a bit other-worldly.

But as I got to know some of the monks over those first two years of seminary, I also grew to appreciate the variety of their personalities. Some were gregarious and loved to be around people, while others were fairly reserved and seemed more serious, if not distant. Some were intellectually intimidating, but others, masterful teachers, were kind and approachable. Some of the monks had a sense of humor and some not so much; some could regale you with their sharp wit while others were more pious and reverent, though having a ready smile.

After two years as a diocesan seminarian, I just knew I had to try my vocation in the monastery to see if I could belong here. Looking back now, I think it was the variety of personalities that really attracted me to this community, and why I never looked around at other Benedictine monasteries before choosing to apply for membership at Saint Meinrad.

I entered as a novice in the summer of 1992, and since then I've learned to appreciate the variety of temperaments and personalities of the men that make up this community - and there were a lot of them in those days (there were 142 monks including me and my three novice classmates). As one monk is fond of saying,  "It takes all kinds!" It certainly does.

We all wear the same monastic uniform, the Benedictine habit, but that's about as far as our uniformity goes. We are a communion of faith in that we share in a consecrated way of life that expresses something of what we treasure most - Christ and his Gospel, God's Kingdom, God's people, and our Catholic tradition - but we express the love we have for God, the Church and its tradition in the variety of works and ministries our unique personalities and temperaments draw us to as distinct expressions of our faith in Christ and our love for God's people. The way we do what we do expresses our individuality, and no two Saint Meinrad monks are identical.

What makes for a true community is the unitive principle of Love - a power that can do two seemingly opposed things at once: unite the members, binding us to one another as one body, one spirit in Christ, and at the same time distinguish us as unique individuals. Love empowers us to revere and respect each other as unique persons with distinct personalities and temperaments, even as it draws us together as a family; for me to love you, you have to be you and I have to be me.

This is how God loves - the Father is not the Son, who is not the Holy Spirit, three distinct Persons united in love, and together, they are one God. This is how each of us is meant to love as well - giving ourselves away in love to one another, and in doing so allowing others to remain themselves  - for to love as God loves is the true measure of human perfection!