Yesterday I was talking with one of the Cistercian monks with whom I work at the Abbey Store. I mentioned the concept of neo-monasticism to him and he said he had never heard of it. So I told him it was a movement toward new forms of intentional Christian communities, popular especially with young evangelicals. He interrupted me. “Are they celibate?” He asked abruptly. I said that I believed most neo-monastic groups neither required nor forbade celibacy. “Then they’re not really monastics,” he replied.
He went on to explain that a core characteristic of monasticism has always been the quality of “monos,” or being alone, i.e. single, before God. He thought it was lovely that new forms of Christian community are emerging, and pointed out that there has been a long-standing confusion between the monastic and contemplative vocations. Perhaps in their zeal to create new communities of prayer, the so-called neo-monastics were simply being a bit over-enthusiastic by identifying themselves as such.
I asked him, “If these communities are not properly called monastic, then what are they?” He replied, “just call them communities, that’s good enough.”