Friday, June 24, 2011

Benedictine Monks

Recently a secular paper headlined an article about a Benedictine monastery: "Pray and Work, and Desire Like a Leaf Will Drop..."  The article started with the monastery's schedule: reading and meditation(04:30)-prayer(04:50)- meditation(05:30)-Mass (06:00)-meal (07:00)-prayer (8:00)-work (08:15)-prayer (11:45)-meal (12:00)- prayer (13:30)-work (13:45)- prayer (17:30)- meditation (18:00)-meal (18:30)-prayer (19:40...

The monastery, a red brick building,  is surrounded by high trees at the foot of a mountain where the monks take care of a pear orchard of 1200 trees. The  day begins at 4:30 in the morning and goes to 7:40 in the evening with prayer and work. The monks work in the orchard accompanied by the smell of the earth and the sweat from their work. By working, they realize their poverty and limits, and are disciplined in humility. Not hampered by possessions, they become disciplined in detachment.

The article introduces us to a book written by the head monk Fr. Francis Lee: There is no Other Road Besides Love. It recalls the joys and difficulties of 30 years in the monastery. He spent eight years as a  grammar school teacher and entered the monastery in 1982 at the age of 33. The book is based on his sermons for morning Mass during the last  22 years.  The book is his way of saying thanks for "the now, for here, and for his present work in life."

Monks do not grow old, he says, like the paulownia tree by the front  gate that receives its happiness from its surroundings but by a happiness that  flows from the existence of  life itself. He tells us about a German monk who, having gone through the Japanese occupation and a communist imprisonment, spent his last years taking care of those suffering from Hansen's disease.  In his sick bed, he was asked by a monk, "Father, heaven is such a great place, don't you want to get there as quickly as possible?" Laughing, he tells the monk, "You go." Another monk asked, "The saints all lived with a desire for heaven, don't you want to go?" Again laughing, he said, "Let us go together." Fr. Lee very quickly learned that the holier a person is the more human he becomes. 

There are many Catholics who go to monasteries for retreats, looking for silence and time to meditate away from their daily life. During face-to-face confession, many who have lived with frustration, trials, and mental pain--and finally ridding themselves of this unpleasantness with confession--have asked the confessor to hug them.

The Benedictines in Korea have six  monasteries with 140 monks. In  the world they have about 300 independent monasteries with about 8,000 monks. He concludes his remarks by telling us that when a tree is filled with leaves it is difficult to see the heavens during the daytime or the stars at night. Similarly, when we have desires, fantasies, and are overcome with emotions, we have difficulties seeing with the eyes of the soul. With the detachment and poverty of the winter trees, it is possible to see God and more of our true self. The more we empty ourselves the more God can fill us. This is the life of true happiness.                                                                                                                                                                          


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