Saturday, October 4, 2014

Watchmen Monks

The documentary "The Rule" has provoked a lot of responses, almost all of them very enthusiastic. The great reviews are tributes to the filmmakers, Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno, as well as to the work that my brother monks and our colleagues are doing with our kids at St. Benedict's Prep. I've gotten several emails and a few face to face compliments, but one that I received on the phone yesterday really struck me. I had called our printer to thank him for a print job he had just completed for us, and he told me that he had really enjoyed watching "The Rule." Then he said, "The scene that sticks in my mind is the one where the monks are standing on the roof of the monastery looking out over the central ward. It reminded me of that verse in the bible about the watchmen guarding the city." I felt a little embarrassed by the comparison at the time.
From THE RULE documentary film, courtesy of and © Bongiorno Productions Inc.
Then early this morning I began reflecting on tomorrow's first reading:

My friend had a vineyard 
on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower.
(Isaiah 5:1-2)

Watchtowers in vineyards were used for supervising the work of the harvesters and for looking for thieves
Watchtower in a vineyard
who might want to steal the grapes. The lower level of the stone tower served as shelter for the people working in the vineyard, especially at harvest time.

As soon I saw the word "watchtower" I thought again of that scene that the printer had mentioned in which the monks are surveying the city from the roof, as if keeping watch. This time I felt not just embarrassed but uneasy.

In the Old Testament the watchmen kept an eye on the city walls at night, especially in times of siege. They would stay awake while everyone else slept. But Psalm 127:1 recalls the Hebrews' strong belief in providence: "Unless the Lord watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil." Whatever it is that we monks of Newark are doing, it will be in vain without the Lord's help, so we better be people of prayer.

The Old Testament prophets were watchmen of God who observed the impending doom of the nation and announced it to the sleeping, indifferent people. Their task was to bring the people back to God.This burden of responsibility was heavy on God's watchmen (Ez. 33:2-6)

If our life of prayer and community and silence gives us a special perspective on the truth concerning what's going on around us, like watchmen on a tower, then how do we announce that message to our brothers and sisters? Maybe our mere presence on our hill in the middle of the city is part of our message as prophets; or maybe our schools and our parish are an eloquent witness to the reality of God's love in Newark. Maybe "The Rule" will be a special help to us in our role as watchmen upon the city walls.

In any case, watchmen cannot fall asleep even when we're tired, but we have to stay awake and keep vigil. I pray that the Lord when he comes in the middle of the night will find us wide awake up on our roof, keeping watch over the city.


  1. Father Al, please let us know when and how we can view The Rule again. It appears PBS is not showing in the near future. I only saw a few minutes at the end it was wonderful and want to view it in its entirety.

  2. Thanks for asking about how to see "the Rule." The film makers have provided me with the info that I've placed in the left hand column at the very top of this blog. Good luck!
    Fr. Albert

  3. Hi Fr. Albert,

    Last night I saw “The Rule” for the second time!! Great testimony to the good works of the “Downtown Monks” and their staff. I worked a total of 33 years with children of all backgrounds and disabilities. Thirteen of them with my brother, Fr. Joe Dietz. Never easy but always rewarding. The underlying strength to accomplish all this, as your documentary shows, is prayer. Thanks to you and your brother monks for this beautiful work. Please let me know if you are planning a DVD of “The Rule.”

    Joan Schramm

    PS I forgive you for killing the Centipede!!