It may not be a staple in your diet, but it’s kept countless monasteries afloat over the years.   And it may rescue another one in California.

Details, from The Los Angeles Times:

The peal of the church bell splits the predawn darkness like a summons from God himself.

The hermits of Big Sur rise from their beds, slip on white robes and emerge one by one from their quarters — concrete-block cells heated with propane stoves and adorned with third-hand furniture and framed inscriptions of St. Romuald’s Brief Rule For Camaldolese Monks.

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it.

If only it were that easy.

The Catholic monks of the New Camaldoli Hermitage have lived a world apart in the inspirational majesty of Big Sur for half a century. They know well the power of prayer and contemplation.

Money management is another matter.

Never did they imagine their most vexing problem would be finding a way to close a $300,000-a-year budget deficit. Or reviving a flagging fruitcake business that has helped support them for decades.

The monks are like countless American families struggling through hard times. They’re working harder but digging into dwindling savings to make ends meet. Their home is paid for, but repairs are on hold indefinitely. The viability of their Thoreau-like existence is in doubt.

“I’ll be honest: I don’t understand finances at all,” said Father Raniero Hoffman, the hermitage’s prior for the last dozen years. “Our whole way of life is beyond what society today would say is practical.”

They came to the mountaintop seeking escape from the distractions of society. They found that some distractions cannot be avoided.

Check out the rest. And break out the fruitcake!  Saturated in brandy?  Mmmmm….


  1. I’m not sure this is about fruitcake, or money management!

    A few years ago I went on a retreat there. The monks are awesome people, kind beyond words, and the scenary of course is to die for. We all had our own little cell, overlooking the Pacific and wildlife. If one ever wants to know what life as a monk might be like, this may well be as close as a layperson can get. It’s all silent, with one common kitchen where we would all go to get our food (killer lentil soup), and then retreat back to our cells.

    I was so excited to finally get a cell (it’s very popular), especially after learning that Bishop Fulton Sheen had come here for retreat in his earlier years.

    Ok, here comes the but. Sad to say, as kind as these monks are and as perfect as the location is this side of heaven, I’m sorry to say I believe the monks have lost their way, at least in the orthodox sense.

    It’s now very “new agey”, with a regular Berkeley crowd. One need not be Catholic, or even religious, to book a cell (at least that’s the way it was when I was there). I didn’t want to believe it, but after the mass moved into a different room, into a “circle” for the Eucharist, I began to feel really uncomfortable. It became so bad I left and drove up to Carmel to have mass with the Carmelite nuns. I had doubts that it was even a licit mass, albeit not sure. It sure was “different.”

    It was a huge disappointment, and I’ve prayed for the monks ever since. I had actually read this article earlier today and wondered if owing to the fact (at least from all I can tell) that they have lost their way, if God is no longer allowing them his great providence that he often affords to monasteries.

    If anyone reading has also been there, I would love to hear other feedback. I remain open to being informed perhaps about differenet rubics for this particular order, but I doubt that is the case. Bookstores are always dead giveaways. This one left me no doubt that the new age influence was heavy here.

  2. i haven’t been to the big sur monastery, but have a deep interest in catholic eremetic literature, inc. both kinds of camaldolese. i agree that the big sur foundation looks pretty new-agey, and that’s uncomfortable to me too. but

    “if God is no longer allowing them his great providence that he often affords to monasteries”

    is an ungenerous comment. how many charterhouses have closed? how far have their numbers dwindled? yet who would charge them with losing their way? and we may compare the camaldolese oblate program, which has been a great success and has provided so many, including non-catholics, with a program of hesychasm. on the whole i prefer montecoronan camaldolese literature, but let’s not be selective in finding ‘evidence’ of decline.

  3. John T. Moore Jr. says:

    The Camaldolese Hermits of Big Sur have always prayed for my intentions for thirty plus years now. I suppose it’s been over thirty years since my last retreat. They have always given me excellent Spiritual Direction and allowed me to stay with them. I met some great guys there and had a wonderful spiritual experience there, with a peace that goes beyond understanding. I trust that when I return someday for a retreat that I will find the same correct orthodoxy as I had on all of my visits. This is a most difficult time in Church history. Some see the handwriting on the wall; I believe there will in the USA anyway great spiritual and even physical challenges ahead. As this culminates things will first need to continue to decline before the change happens. In the end perhaps we’ll have a fully renewed Church. Our Creed is like a skeleton that protects the vital organs within the mystical body of Christ. If we stick with it, the basics, things should straighten out. Many problems over the past 2,000 years of The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church have been corrected and yet they attempt to raise their ugly heads time and again and then corrected again. There’s nothing new under the sun. In my opinion child like trust in Jesus and following the examples of all the Saints along with the Rosary is what we need, a back to basics. In regards to pre vatican and post vatican II years I see it as any good Scribe can pull from his store-house both from the old and the new for what He needs…. So there will become a better balance pre and post. Keep me in your prayers if you will.

    Sincerely Yours,
    In the Heart of the Infant Jesus.

    John T. Moore Jr.

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