“When they live by the labor of their hands, as our ancestors and the apostles did, then they are really monastics” (RB48:8)
Everyone works in the Monastery. No one is idle. The picture you see was handmade by one of the Monks here in St. Otillien Archabbey. It is a letter-mailbox for letters given to the abbot. It depicts St Christopher, (meaning the bearer of Christ) the famous saint who carried Christ across the waters to protection. He is the perfect figure and saint for wholesome work.
The work one sees in a monastery is not about renumeration, success, or climbing the corporate ladder. Many monks do simple tasks day in and day out. The Bakers get up every morning at 3:00 am to bake bread. The Porter, Br. Adelbert has been delivering the mail of the Monastery for over 45 years now, rain or shine. When a monk dies, frequently an Iron wrought Cross made by one of the monks, is placed over his grave carries with it some symbol of their work and labor in the monastery. Even in death a monk is remembered for his work and labor on earth.
“Benedictine work is intent on building the Kingdom, not on destroying it. In Benedictine spirituality, work is purposeful and perfecting and valuable. It is not a time-filler or a moneymaker or a necessary evil. We work because the world is unfinished and it is ours to develop. We work with a vision in mind. After the person with a Benedictine soul has been there, the world ought to be a little closer to the way the Kingdom will look.”
This year I have worked as a priest for 25 years. My career has been varied and fruitful. My different positions have included Diocesan director AIDS Ministry, Native American Ministry, Dean of a Seminary in Mexico City, Rector of a large ex-pat parish in Mexico, Spiritual Faculty of CREDO inc, interim priest in a town by the Seaside, and Rector of a diverse and multi-cultural parish. My work has taken me to live, work and study, in Minneapolis, New York City, England, Mexico City and Los Angeles. At each stage there have been many challenges along the way.
These last years in Ministry have been the hardest for me. Watching a congregation shrink by 30% in five years and struggle with an annual deficit of $30-40,000 a year has taken its toll on the congregation and on me. I have learned that not all work is easy or gratifying. I have learned to be thankful for the work that comes its way and to always look on the bright side of the challenges. I have learned that working together, not alone is always the best policy.
“There will come a moment in life when we will have to ask ourselves what we spent our lives on and how life in general was better as a result of it. On that day we will know the sanctifying value of work.” JC
PIC Hand Made Wrought Iron Crosses in the Monastery Cemetery (St Otillien)
After 25 years of active Ministry in the church, I am now facing the hard and difficult challenge of retirement from as early as 15 months from now to five years down the road or so. I am faced with the fact that others soon will come after me and replace me in my work. That my work will take on new and different meaning once I am retired. My dream is to begin an ecumenical Benedictine Center in Mexico City, near my house for Urban dwellers who need a space for quiet, prayer, meditation, and purpose. In order to do that I will need to stop working as a parish priest and start working full time as an Urban Monk.
I will need other partners to work with me.
That is a scary and exciting transition for me, and I keep asking myself When? How? And Where?
Joan Chittister in her book Wisdom Distilled, gives a brief list of the real value of our work. It serves as a guide to how work should be played out and lived out no matter what phase of our life journey. She reminds us….
*Work is my gift to the world. It is my social fruitfulness.
*Work is the way I am saved from total self-centeredness.
*Work gives me a place in salvation.
*Work, in the Benedictine vision, is meant to build community.
*Work leads to self-fulfillment.
*Work is its own asceticism.
*Work, finally, is the basic Benedictine way of living poverty and being in solidarity with the poor.
Today for me at the Monastery is a day to take a good hard look at my work as it is and as it might be in the coming months and years. To see how much I have accomplished up and until now. To dream of continuing the work of building up the kingdom of God and not for myself. To continue to answer the call to come and work in God’s field and vineyard until the Sun goes down in the western sky.