Listen to the monks

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Clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another, for:
God opposes the proud
but bestows favor on the humble.
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that He may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you.”
~ 1 Peter 5: 5b-7

Benedictine monastic life at Glenstal Abbey has shaped my understanding of silence, time, work, and God’s abundant presence in the mysterious and sometimes painful events of our lives. In their unique and vibrant personalities, the Benedictine monks at Glenstal graced me with an awareness of God’s sense of humor, as well as showing me how to practice the prayer necessary for growth in relationship with God.

During the brief time I spent in this holy place set apart for God, I struggled with the amount of prayer that the daily liturgies with the monks required of me. I found the constant silence of the monastery oppressive at times and struggled even to lift my heart to God in prayer without great distraction during the liturgy. I simply felt too weak to pray, or even to focus on praying along with the beautiful chanting of the monks. My focus was on how weak I am in my relationship with the Lord.

One monk, who would become a dear friend, took me under his wing and offered me some advice. He told me to read more Scripture. When I sat down to write today, April 25, the feast day of Mark the Evangelist, I had honestly forgotten my dear friend’s words. As I reflected on which aspect of the Benedictine monastic life might be useful for people to know about in these perturbing, unusual times, I was reminded of the necessity of Scripture in my daily prayer life.

The monks describe their way of life in this way:

“A Benedictine monk leads a life of prayer dedicated to seeking God in everything, under a Rule and an Abbot. The prayer of the monk is expressed in community by the chanting of the Divine Office. The monk’s prayer is also expressed silently wherever he may be… The Work of God, the Sacred Liturgy, is to come before all else in the life of a monk.”

This unique and underrated way of life came to mind when coronavirus caused the ‘lockdown’ in most places in our country. Death, isolation, and stress have crippled and fragmented our reality. In the midst of this storm, I have benefited from many a beautiful reflection on the ways our culture and pace of life has slowed down enough to rest — to heal — even if against our will.

In the last two months, President Trump has called Americans to prayer. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has extended not one but two Urbi et Orbi blessings, and has made himself available to the sick, lonely, suffering and isolated by live-streaming his daily morning Mass. Americans all over the country have been taking care of one another; sewing masks and cooking for their families, who may be eating together for the first time in years.

Although essential to recognize the fruits of this gift of time, there are ways in which we are called deeper still to reconcile with this suffering, identifying how we may truthfully, authentically navigate turbulent seas as sons and daughters of the Most High God. This trial is real, and recognizing this reality prepares our hearts to receive the fullness of God’s glory in Christ Jesus, who, as we are reminded in the First Letter of Peter, “will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little.” (1 Peter 5:10) This suffering, in whatever form it may come, is answered by the Glory of God in the tender embrace of Jesus Christ. The suffering is not the end.

As the monks at Glenstal Abbey chant the Daily Office of Lauds (morning prayer), Vespers (evening prayer) and Compline (night prayer), they are immersed in the Scriptures. Day in and day out, the monks’ prayer in the Daily Office consists “almost entirely of scripture,” most especially the Psalms, as it is described on their website. They write,

“The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s hymn-book, in which the people of Israel found words to express their joys, sorrows, praise, thanksgiving and needs to God.”

Suffering can be disorienting, but God’s Word provides us with an anchor; He picks us up and carries us in our weakness. Reading the Bible and learning about the life of Christ grounds us in reality. If we are to embrace this unique time and receive the fullness of God’s presence with us, we must turn to the Word of God that reminds us that we are because God is. Scripture is our lifeline that reminds us of the glorious reality that this life is preparation for the next. Do what the monks do: read more Scripture.

“Be sober and vigilant.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in faith,
knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world
undergo the same sufferings.
The God of all grace
who called you to His eternal glory through Christ Jesus
will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you
after you have suffered a little.
To Him be dominion forever. Amen.”
~ 1 Peter 5: 8-11

Anja Renkes

Anja Renkes

Anja Renkes is a member of the University of Notre Dame class of 2020. As an oil painter, studying Theology and Irish Studies in her undergraduate career, she spends time contemplating what it looks like to live life in gratitude. Interested in the integration of art and theology, she is currently finishing a collection of paintings of Irish holy wells. This collection, comprised of works in oil and wax, entitled, Numinous Beauty, focuses on telling the story of hope and communion experienced at holy wells by displaying visually accessible signs of Catholic popular piety. Ultimately, Renkes focuses on contemplating visual evidence of humans longing for God, and Gods love for humanity in the extravagant beauty of creation. Renkes will be pursuing her Masters of Nonprofit Administration at the Mendoza College of Business in the Fall of 2020.

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