Saturday, July 28, 2012


I haven’t thought this through yet, and in fact it is one of those issues that stays unresolved and keeps us on our toes.


entBegin with this fact: Over the centuries new monks entering the monastery have always brought with them lots of behaviors and mindsets from the culture in which they grew up, and so monasteries have always reflected the larger culture in which they find themselves.

The perennial question for the Formation Director (me in this case) is: When a new candidate comes to join the monastery, how much of “the world” can he bring in with him and still make a legitimate go of monastic life? After all, part of a monk's gift to the Church is that he is deliberately counter-cultural, standing over against the values and assumptions of the prevailing culture. In addition, one of the basic characteristics of monasticism is some degree of separation from the world and its distractions and hollow pursuits.

For example, there are no televisions in our monastery -- there is one over in the hospitality center, but there are rules concerning when it can be watched. We Luddites seem to get along just fine without the hours of television-watching that absorbs many people.

As Formation Director I’ve had to deal with various adaptations over the years. Twenty years ago the question was “Can a candidate have a telephone in his room like the rest of us?” the answer to that was easy: “Heck no!”

Then fifteen years ago it was “Can I bring my computer?” That took some thought, but got a reluctant “Yes,” since he was going to college at the time.
Do all Trappists wear hoods while emailing?
The idea is to help a new monk learn how to use a phone or a computer in such a way that it helps (and doesn't hinder) the life project that he’s embarking on. He may as well learn how to make judicious use of these things that are part of everyday modern life.


Okay. Now envision some of the following:

- A monk who spends hours a day on Facebook communicating with long-forgotten classmates from second grade.

- A monk texting during breakfast in the monastic refectory. (Technically he’s not breaking silence, right?)

- A novice posting daily updates on his Facebook page complaining about his quirky novice master or giving reviews of the monastery's food.

- A young monk during 6:00 a.m. Vigils types a quick twitter message: “We’re at Morning Prayer. Just finished Psalm 78. OMG that’s a long one. LOL."

- A Novice Master who spends 90 minutes a week writing and posting his blog. OOPS! Strike that one. 

These questions challenge us monks to look at what our monastic project is all about. Almost by definition monks should be slow to adapt to the latest trends in the larger culture, so I’m not afraid of being accused of being old-fashioned. At the same time, Benedict’s Rule for Monks has survived for so long because it allows for adaptation to new circumstances. 

Please pray that all of us, young and old, will be up to the challenge!
What would the Buddha say?

1 comment:

  1. As a member of a third order in formation, I often experience ambivalence over what would be antithetical to a lifestyle where there is a commitment to a certain degree of detachment from worldly allurements. My daily meditations on The Imitation of Christ shed light on why such detachment is necessary, and moreover the rewards that await those committed to such a lifestyle.