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
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.