Frequently Asked Questions
Prayer & Spirituality
Why do monks pray the Psalms?
Praying the Psalter is an ancient tradition reaching back past the early Christian Church to the religious practice of the ancient Jewish community. The practice has been encouraged since the earliest days of the Christian faith, and is prescribed in theRule of Saint Benedict.
See Liturgy of the Hours
Do you have to go to every prayer session?
Yes and no. Attendance at Office and Mass is expected. However, due to the ministries of the Abbey, some absences are unavoidable.
The liturgy of the Hours at Saint John's includes Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night prayer, with the addition of daily Mass to the traditional "hours." Work and prayer form the rhythm and dynamic of monastic life, and every monk is expected to attend. However, Saint John's Abbey serves and leads in a wide variety of fields including education and publishing among others. Accordingly, there are times when missing prayer is unavoidable. Though this is not encouraged, it is understood. If however employment or other ministerial commitments interrupt participation in community prayer too often, or cause a disruption to the community or the monk's vocation, special arrangements may be made, or the responsibility removed from the monk.
Do you pray all of the time?
Yes and no. The Benedictine "motto" is "worship and work," meaning our prayer is the work of God, and our work is informed and inspired by our prayer, so that it may become prayer.
It may be imagined that monks sit in the choir stalls all day, reciting the Psalms, or that we do nothing other than quietly ponder scripture and meditate. Though all of this is part of the monastic day, Benedictines deeply appreciate the spiritual value of work and community. Monasticism has a natural balance. Few, even if they wanted, can recite psalms from morning to evening, or sit motionless and ruminate on the Word of God. However, even if a Benedictine possessed the spiritual, mental and physical stamina for such feats, two questions in particular remain. First, where is the community in this behavior? Second, and very pragmatically, who is paying for this lifestyle?
Despite the Modernist trend, religion and devotion are rarely isolated and autonomous. Church history, including the Desert Fathers and other anchorites (hermits), the spiritual life is always informed and corrected by the Church community. Even if a monk's daily practice is in solitude, a spiritual director and a community for Mass is sought out and relied upon. Moreover, extending back to the Desert Fathers, monks have always been expected to support themselves in some fashion or another. Monasticism is a commitment to Christ, Church and community, not a vacation from responsibility and life. Members of a monastic community are expected to work to support the community and community ministries.
What happens if you miss prayer with the community?
Your immediate superior, or one (or more) of your brothers will ask about your absence and if there is some issue requiring attention. Unless prayer is missed frequently there is no official action taken.
Do monks get bored of praying?
Yes, it may become boring. Nevertheless, the monastic life is designed, so to speak, to overcome this challenge.
Monks are committed to prayer, work and community. Five times a day we pray as a community, and we add private prayer to that as well. As anything practiced so frequently, it may become boring and challenging to continue. Monasticism faces this issue directly, and as brothers, fights to overcome it. We rely on the support of our brothers to help us over these obstacles to our vocation. If the challenges of monasticism seem too much, there is always someone to help bear the burden. Just a lay person, there are peaks and valleys to our prayer life. Everyone will experience moments of divine inspiration and strength, as well as moments of challenge and struggle. The brothers’ commitment to one another helps to overcome these obstacles and opens the way to a deeper relationship with God.
Do you ever pray by yourself?
Yes. The tradition private prayer of a Benedictine monk is lectio divina, but other traditions and devotions are permitted.
See Lectio Divina
Do you pray in groups?
Yes. The monastic life is built around prayer and work. We come together as a community to pray the liturgy of the hours, as well as lectio divina.
See Liturgy of the Hours, and Lectio Divina
Do you practice meditation and contemplation?
Yes. Saint John's practice of the liturgy of the hours incorporates a slow and deliberate pace to encourage and make time for a deeper meditation on the Scripture. Additionally, this is practiced in a variety of forms, including lectio divina and visio divina.
See Liturgy of the Hours, and Lectio Divina
What is lectio divina and why do you practice it?
Lectio Divina is an ancient Catholic form of meditation, centered on Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers and Mothers, and the Saints. The practice has been preserved within Catholicism for centuries, and it is prescribed to Benedictine monks in the Rule of Saint Benedict.
See Lectio Divina
Are monks allowed to practice other prayer and spirituality styles and traditions?
Yes and no. The Rule of Saint Benedict guides and structures our way of life, and is thus fundamental to our identity. However, where prayer traditions do not interrupt our commitment to the Rule of Saint Benedict, we may follow those in addition.
Concluding the Rule, Saint Benedict writes “Whoever you are, therefore, who are hastening to the heavenly homeland, fulfill with the help of Christ this minimum Rule which we have written for beginners; and then at length under God's protection you will attain to the loftier heights of doctrine and virtue which we have mentioned above.” The Rule is not the end of Christian living, nor is it exclusively the Way to God. That Way of course, is Christ, and that Way is to which the Rule points, and strengthens, and educates. Benedict encourages the monks to study and pray with the writings and teachings of the Church Fathers and of the Saints. Acceptance of the Rule is not to accept exclusion and walls against other traditions, all of whom seek Christ. Joining into the long tradition of men and women, guided and educated in the life of Christ, by the Rule and the communities gathered around it, is to enter into the larger and ancient conversation of the Catholic Church. It is to enter into this conversation with a name, with a family, with spiritual roots running deeply through the entire Catholic family and community.