Saturday, September 6, 2014



I'm no stranger to New York City; over the years I've taken graduate French courses at NYU on Washingon Square, earned a masters degree from Columbia Teachers College up on 122nd St., and studied Spanish at the New School in Greenwich Village. Once or twice a year I find myself in New York, and always find it energizing - but a little too frenetic to make me want to live there.

This afternoon (Saturday) I'm going across the river to Greenwich Village to the Quad Cinema to help with a question and answer session after a matinee showing of the documentary called "The Rule," a 90-minute documentary that recounts how we monks of Newark Abbey have applied the basic spiritual principles of St. Benedict to the way we run our prep school for mostly urban young men.

The reviews have been very positive so far, which doesn't surprise me at all. So I'm looking forward to this Q&A with the film makers after the film (and a repeat on Sunday). 

Something that fascinates me, though, is the challenge that the very idea of "monk" must pose to folks in general, and particularly in Greenwich Village. You know the stereotypes of monks better than I do, of course. So the notion of monks living in the city may be mind-blowing for some people. One of the chief stereotypical characteristics of monks and nuns is that they are irrelevant, deliberately out of touch with the realities of normal life on earth. No one who sees this documentary. though, will ever again be able to use the word "irrelevant" in the same sentence as "monk," at least not in a universal generalization. 

Coincidentally, just a few days ago I was rereading a book entitled A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century and came across an article in it by Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B. in which, after describing the sweeping and disorienting changes our culture has undergone in the past century, she writes:

And yet in the world of Benedict of Nursia [d. 542] there is surely a model, a vision, of what must be done to exist in a world such as this one. The Benedictinism that stabilized Europe, that gave a center to its villages and a spiritual glue to its systems, has never been needed more. 94

She is writing mostly for monastic men and women, and poses quite a challenge to us present monastics who have one foot still in the old model of religious life and monasticism, and the other foot in this rapidly changing world. 

So as I take the PATH train over to New York (with my habit in a small suitcase) I'll be more sensitive than ever to all the facets of my monastic calling, incuding contemplative prayer, proclaiming the Gospel by my work, and bearing quiet witness to God's presence everywhere. Sitting in a theater in New York wearing my habit will feel..., well,... let's see. I'll have to let you know.  


The 90-minute documentary about us and our school will start showing on PBS stations around the country on September 26. Keep an eye out for it. You'll have to, as they say, "check your local listings for dates and times." Please get all your friends to watch it. Especially rich ones, or young men who could become monks! "The Rule" will be available soon on DVD - I'll let you know when that happens.

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