Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prayer and Work (Ora et Labora)

The pray and work, (Ora et Labora) principles of the Benedictine religious life has remained with us for 1500 years, coming to us from the time of St. Benedict. Although the saint is not known to have used these words, his rule of life can be expressed with these words.

The diocesan bulletin has an article that introduces us to the life of the Benedictines in our own day. The writer is the novice master of the Benedictine monastery in Waegwan. Because of the influence Benedict had on European culture, Pope Paul VI, in 1964, proclaimed Benedict the patron saint of Europe. 

The novice master tells us that when he arrived at the monastery 20 years ago it didn't take him long before he knew what those two words meant. It was in that year that the Benedictines began  planting rice  fields without the use of insecticides. Their environmentally friendly approach to farming was a stark contrast to the neighboring rice fields. More than ten monks worked all day in the muddy fields, constantly fighting the weeds. 

There is also the work in the carpenter shop, making benches, kneelers, altars and other church articles.   Wood has to be dried, which takes two to three years of seasoning.

If this was all that the monks did, religious life would be difficult. At five o'clock, they wash up and prepare for chapel and prayers, often fighting the desire to doze. The old and young monks arrive together to the chapel, after the sweat of the day, with one heart and one voice praising God; you feel, said the novice master, that the prayer and the work are the same offering to God.

The chapel, the refectory and the different work areas become the life of the monks. They meet five times a day in the chapel, three times in the refectory, and in the different work places were they cooperate with one another. Without this rhythm in their lives there would be problems.

The novice master concludes the article by reminding us that the family dinner hour is disappearing: many parents and children no longer eating together. The result is a lack of dialogue, intimacy, and a lack of prayer. Isn't it important that there is a balance between work and prayer?  The monk feels that the Benedictine practice of combining work and prayer is an ancient wisdom tradition that should also become a part of our daily routine.


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