Modern Monastic Life and Community
What do we mean by a 'modern monastic life? How does a 'modern monastic' community live?
"I feel that people who try to lead a monastic life in this day and age are probably the last of a breed in Christianity. Very few people are coming forward for the monastic life and monastic houses are closing down every day. It was because of this decaying life in a monastic community that I felt people from all walks of life feel a need for solitude; that time of silence; that time of quietness with God. The main monastic houses here had strict rules about age, gender, education, status and all the ego baggage which goes with a middle class Christian heritage. Because of these restrictions many were excluded or the Third Orders (Oblates) visit an Abbey once a year and that was that. I always felt there was more that ordinary people could give to the Lord as a monk and nun in the wilder community of our townships.
After eight hours at work in the local engineering factory or in a high street shop, people look forward to putting up their feet and taking things easy. This is very normal but even this can be mundane and the soul is crying out for something more. For many Christians there can be an attempt at prayer and meditation or some out of church time activity (most churches only open for one hour on a Sunday these days) but they feel they are only playing at it and suddenly it becomes boring, so it is back to watching the television and putting up our feet again. An attempt by myself and others was to formulate a distance monastic lifestyle, much like distance learning by colleges. The idea was that each member would give as much of themselves to living a monastic life, within their own homes and hearts, as they could. The amount of time and effort would depend on people's circumstances, i.e. family or work commitments etc.
The Community is geared up to making the monastic life easy and fun. The daily cycle of monastic prayer will be for some a simple prayer and for others the full offices will be used. The monastic vows taken may often be the simple vow of stability or the vows of poverty, chastity etc, because the life of the monk and nun should not be burdensome but to take time out in the desert place seeking that Union with God. I have also believed that those in monastic life should be Evangelists who are hungry to show the world the Gospel Message. And through that hunger for the Gospel, people will see through the monk or nun the loving, compassionate face of Christ. That face of Christ is often found at the sharp edge of the Market place, where the monastic is often dressed in scruff order, helping the sick and dying, the poor and distressed and those outcasts of society. The Acts of the Apostles in the 21st century must be a mirror of the Acts of the Apostles in the 1st century. But this is not easy for everybody and quite often like Saint Paul in his letters to the churches, there is a need to remind people of their vocation and to prompt them to keep going for the sake of our Lord and the Salvation promise.
The community is open to all people and reaches out to other ethnic groups because we live in a multi-faith world and we all have much to learn from each others inner spirituality. We use the Rule of Taize, written by Brother Roger, founder of the community of that same name in Taize, France. Originally as a way station on an underground railroad which spirited the oppressed and persecuted from Nazi France to freedom and a new life. Both communities are ecumenical and open to all who come with the purpose of living "...so that others might live." No one could say it better than Mother Teresa, who put it this way: "A life not lived for others is a life not lived."
The most important rule we use and keep above our door isThe LittleRule of Saint Romuald:
"Sit in your cells as in paradise, Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.
The path you must follow is in the psalms - never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, then take every opportunity you can to sing the psalms in your hearts and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the Emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him."