catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 5 :: 2004.02.27 — 2004.03.11


St. Gregory's Abbey and Benedictine monasticism


Worship is the most important act of Christian living. Worship keeps us in touch with God who loves us unconditionally and wills that we love Him rather than use Him for our own purposes. Worship teaches us that we need bridges between ourselves and God and between ourselves and our neighbors, that we need to be healed and to heal others, and that we need to be fed by more than just the food we eat. It is the act of worship which is the central act of the monk.

A monastic order depends on the members of the church, and the society in which it lives, in many ways. To begin with, the social and political structure needs to tolerate the existence of monastic communities rather than destroy such institutions for material or ideological reasons. A monastic order depends on the material support of those in civil order, who have funds available for such a purpose, in order be able to live the life to which it is committed. Material support is itself a sign of affirmation on the part of donors for monastic values. Respect and moral support of monastic values by at least a significant minority in the church and society are also necessary to support those committed to that life.

Monastic institutions have always had an important effect on the quality of life in society and the church. Monastic orders keep high ideals for living the Christian life before others. Of course, this commitment of monks does not guarantee fidelity to these ideals. A layperson in the church with lower ideals might be more faithful to his or her ideals and thus be a more credible witness to the Faith than an individual monk. Nevertheless, the struggle to live by Christian ideals through monastic discipline keeps these higher ideals in sight for the whole church and the world. Indeed, there are times when the deep struggle to live by monastic ideals enables monks to help other Christians in their own struggles to live the Christian life. Monks, of course, can also learn much from the experience of non-monastic people. The church as a whole, and therefore society as well, benefits from this ongoing sharing of life experiences governed by Christian ideals.

St. Gregory’s Abbey of Three Rivers, Michigan, is a monastery in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. which follows the Rule of St. Benedict. We try to be faithful to the basic teaching of the Rule while seeking to discern how it should be applied in our time and place. The fundamental inspiration of the Rule, to which St. Benedict constantly directs the monk’s attention, is the Bible. In this case study, I shall present historical background to St. Benedict, and to St. Gregory’s Abbey in particular. I shall also outline the most important teachings developed in St. Benedict’s Rule and in the Benedictine tradition of 1500 years. I discuss these teachings with the conviction that they are valuable Christian teaching for anyone in the church and not just for monks. However, it is not enough for monastic ideals to be read about in books and preached from the pulpit. For that reason, Benedictine teaching needs living communities dedicated to the struggle of living up to its ideals in order to make them vital for the Church as a whole.

Next: The Bible and Monastic Values

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