Benedict on Monasticism

“When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He, Himself will know how to best bestow you on others. Unless He prefer, for thy greater advantage, to keep thee all to Himself.”
–St. Basil

I like this:

“In virtue of the absolute primacy reserved to Christ, monasteries are called to be places in which space is made for the celebration of the glory of God, where one adores and chants the mysterious but real presence of the divine in the world and where one tries to live the new commandment of love and mutual service,” the pope said.

Pope Benedict said that men and women who enter a monastery are looking for “a spiritual oasis where they can learn to live as true disciples of Jesus in serene and lasting fraternal communion, welcoming guests as Christ himself.”

“This is the witness that the church asks of monasticism in our day,” he said.
The pope prayed that every monastery would be an “oasis of ascetic life” where outsiders could see how attractive it is to dedicate one’s whole life to Christ “in a climate of silence and contemplation.”

I often get emails from non-Catholics
, and even some Catholics, wondering, “but what use is it?”

In our world, these days, we want everything to be obvious and immediate, but that’s not really what life is. How often have you looked back on something and said, “ah, I hadn’t realized then what I see, now…”

In the life of faith things are even less obvious, less immediate. I talk a lot about taking “the long view” (I wish I talked about it less, and did it more) and the long view is partly about looking at where we are in one particular moment, and realizing that we do not know what its impact will be on the future, but that all things work to the good, by God. That some things, even if we prefer the would not happen, must happen, in order for something else to occur, later.

Monasticism trains the long view.
Monastics build their day around two things, the conventual Mass and the prayers of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours. The LOTH coincides with the themes of the season and the readings of the Mass – they are of a piece.

All of their work, their prayers, even their meals, are meant to prepare and support monastics in their larger job, which is the Office – the 5-6 of hours of liturgical prayer – and their private prayer, as well. The job is prayer, constantly, for the praise of God and the good of the whole world.

*Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturnes; it is now called the Office of Readings.
*Lauds or Morning Prayer (at Dawn)
*Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour=9a.m.)
*Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour=12 noon)
*None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour=3p.m.)
*Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
*Compline or Night Prayer (before sleep)

Praying all day, every day, immersing oneself in psalmody, does not – as some would think – cut one off from the world. The psalms themselves, when unabridged – with their darker tones left intact – are a perfect reflection of the human condition in all its despair and hope. They show us that there is nothing new in the human heart. Monastics do get news, but they don’t wallow in it. They do not need to read an awful story like this to know that people suffer and go hopeless, and hurt or kill themselves, for lack of one person telling them that they are good, and loveable and beloved. They do not need to read about governments fearing free expression to know that such governments often lose sight of the God-given gift of human liberty, or that a culture inhospitable to inconvenient life is in serious, fundamental conflict with itself.

Sanctifying the hours of each day, through prayer, growing much of their own food, Monastics look at time differently – they know that almost nothing worthwhile is immediate or immediately apparent, and that usefulness, itself, can be over and under-defined.

What use is it?
Charities in the world, missionaries, church movements, “active” religious orders who work with the poor, the disadvantaged, and so forth, their work is supported by the quiet prayers of the Monastics. When they rise at night – the time when so many are lonely, or lost, or deeply enthralled in their harmful behaviors – monastics are praying for exactly those people, and for all of us. It is prayer that is concentrated, not limited; prayer whose reach is far.

And if you ask them for their prayers, they will pray for you. No matter who you are. They don’t ask first whether you’re a good person, whether you’re a Christian, whether you are saved, whether you are gay or straight, or in a state of grace or in deep sin. They’ll simply pray for your good.

Advent is coming. We will soon be praying “O Come, O Come Emmanuel…” O come, O come, God-With-Us. Monastics – in the canticles of morning and evening prayer and compline, ponder it every day. If you would like to ask monastics to pray for you or your intentions, here are some links where you can do that:

Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters
St. Paul’s Shrine
Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary
St. Joseph Monastery
Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Abbey of St. Walburga
Benedictines of Mary
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery
Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Monastery
Our Lady of Solitude Monastery
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
Sisters of St. Benedict
Valley of Our Lady Monastery
Nun’s Island
Franciscans of the Renewal
Benedictine Nuns, Ferdinand
Carmelite Monks (the Mystic Monk Coffee guys)
Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church

Deacon Greg has a story that is not that unusual, really. The people who end up as monastics don’t usually start out heading there.

For love of my brethren and friends
I say: “Peace upon you.”
For love of the house of the Lord
I will ask for your good.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dante Explorer

    We would live in a much darker world were it not for the constant prayers being lifted up from the monasteries.

  • manchmedic


    I’m glad you listed my friends at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. I spent some time with them in 2002, and it was an awesome experience. And I went back to visit last October for a couple of days; definitely was worth going back….

    I would submit that the Carthusians are probably some of the most overlooked Monastics out there. Part of that, I realize, is their own doing – they are semi-eremitic and they allow no outside influences anywhere near their communities. Retreatants are only allowed in if they are considering a vocation to their life. Worldwide, their numbers (including nuns) are only about 400 or so.

    All of that said, they’ve been with us for almost 1000 years. Not as long as Benedictines, of course, but they persevere, and somehow manage to be triumphant in their effort. And that in itself is an awesome witness…..

    They do accept prayer requests – the website of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, on Mt. Equinox – just outside of Arlington, VT, is

    Thank you!

  • jillison


    Thank you for this. This.


  • Aunty Franny

    Ahhh, Anchoress!

    You’ve helped me crack the great mystery of life. Well, at least for single Catholic women. What does this have to do with your St. Bene quote?

    Hmm, read it again:
    “When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He, Himself will know how to best bestow you on others. Unless He prefer, for thy greater advantage, to keep thee all to Himself.”
    –St. Basil

    Dang. So, I guess this means God just doesn’t want to share. ;D

    Nice thought provoking post though.

  • jtmckee

    Ms Anchoress, this was article was a joy to read. Thank You

  • Hantchu

    “What use is it?” Well, G-d has a lot of people serving Him. Some do one thing, some do others. I feel a real link to the monastics, especially the contemplatives. I know we are on the same side. I am also vowed to enough things in my pesonal life that I understand that commitment, total commitment, is all. “Rahmana leeba bayee”, as the Talmud says, “The Merciful One desires the heart”.

  • Pixel_Pusher

    I read a novel about nuns in a monastery a long time ago. One character answered that question “What’s it good for?” by saying the cloistered nuns are a spiritual powerhouse, their prayers and dedicated life generated spiritual power for the world, they prayed for the sins of those who couldn’t pray for themselves, and kept open a portal through which God’s forgiveness, peace and love could flow into the world.

    Quite an answer to “What’s it good for!”

    [That book would have been Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede - a book well worth reading, again! admin]

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  • scaron

    I am convinced that in some way we do not understand, the prayer of monastics keeps the world spinning on its axis. They are a small human echo of the awesome task of God – that of keeping all existence in being.

    Watch “Into Great Silence”. You’ll see.

  • Tota Tua

    Please know that not only monastics but Oblates also. OBLATES of SAINT BENEDICT are Christian men and women who strive to live in the secular world according to the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict. Although they are not monks or nuns, they draw inspiration from the Rule and from their ongoing affiliation with a particular Benedictine community for the task of living out the Gospel of Christ in their families and at their workplaces. Through their oblation or gift of themselves to God, they become part of the “extended family” of a particular Benedictine monastery, and share in the prayer and work of that community. Thus an oblate is not simply someone who is interested in monastic spirituality: like a monk or nun, the oblate is part of a particular monastic community which he or she regards as his or her spiritual home. This does not mean that the monastery in any sense competes with or could ever replace one’s local parish. Instead, oblates carry Benedictine spirituality back to their parish communities, and they share with their monastic community the fruit of their life in the parish and in the world.

    Our main function as Oblates is to pray for a world that has refused to pray for itself. (Fr. Denis Robinson OSB, Rector, St. Meinrad School of Theology.)

    [Well said, I am Obl. OSB, also - admin]

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