Waking at 5 a.m, men in black robes, silence, reflection, simplicity: this is what I experienced during my time at St. Meinrad Archabbey.
Saint Meinrad’s is a monastery in southern Indiana created originally by Benedictine monks who came from the Swiss Abbey of Einsiedeln to teach theology, open a seminary, and provide a place for monks to live and pray in community.
Last month I was able to spend two days living the monastic lifestyle with my fellow Chaminade Scholars (a cohort of 15 honors students interested in faith, vocation, and academics) as a part of a retreat for our class.
Originally when I found out about this mandatory retreat, I was a little bit bummed to leave campus. At first, the prospect of having two full days of silence, prayer, and personal reflection terrified me. I enjoyed my usual distractions–they allowed me to just go about my business doing my work and having fun.
However, upon arrival to St. Meinrad, I realized this really wasn’t healthy. With that in mind, I decided to just let go of all my apprehension and throw myself wholeheartedly into the monastic life.
My time at the monastery was pretty structured. First, we woke up at 4:45 a.m. for morning prayer at the church. When we filed in, the brothers did so as well, silently taking their seats and preparing their minds for prayer.
Admittedly, I don’t remember much of this prayer because I was just fighting to stay awake the whole time. After this, we took a quick nap and headed back to the church at 6:30 a.m. for another morning prayer (which was a little easier to stay awake for).
Then, we ate breakfast at 7 a.m, followed by attending mass at 8am, midday prayer at 12pm, and then lunch at 12:20 p.m. We had a bit of free time in the middle of the day to get a tour of the grounds and do some of our own silent reflection, then it was back to the church for evening prayer at 5:15 p.m, dinner at 5:45 p.m, and night prayer at 8:30 p.m.
During that weekend I had more time for silence and inner reflection than I even knew what to do with, and I didn’t have to worry about schoolwork, schedules, friends, family, job- all I had was myself and my thoughts.
And as it turned out, the monastic life isn’t something that you fit in your life, rather, it is a way of life altogether. My time at St. Meinrad taught me that everybody has their own inner monk, waiting to be discovered.
This scheduled time for introspection is something that I began to impart into my daily life after spending the weekend at St. Meinrad. Though it can get boring or uncomfortable at times, it has turned out to be a major positive force.
While at the monastery, in period I was forced to set aside for silence, I was finally able to think about things that I had been avoiding through distractions such as friends, social media, or homework.
Finally, I was given the space to just sit with myself and reflect. Now when I meditate back at Dayton, I am able to go back to that weekend I spent with the monks. It allows me to be fully aware of myself and my surroundings, living in the present moment with no responsibilities other than breathing.
In this moment, vanity doesn’t exist and pride doesn’t matter. You are not looking to show off to anyone or prove yourself worthy, you are just able to exist.
The religious at St. Meinrad have one main goal: to seek God. They sacrifice the “lesser goods” of this world such as flashy clothes, electronics, rich food, and entertainment in order to be fully available to serve the lord’s purpose.
The brothers make three vows when they enter into St. Meinrad’s: a promise of stability (to remain in the same community for an extended period of time), obedience (to the community’s superior and to God), and conversion of life (living in the monastic way and following all of the rules that accompany that).
A vow to the monastic life is a vow to the church, to praying for the church and for the self, and to the worship of God. The community living reminds them that no one in this world really owns anything.
The simple food is a reminder that eating is a blessing that some people do not have access to. The simple black robes are a reminder that they must die to themselves in pride and vanity in order to be free to serve their true purpose.
It is clear that a normal day in the life of a monk involves sticking to a very rigid schedule of a lot of prayer and silent reflection. However, what many people don’t know is that along with prayer, the monks have time for hobbies and work to sustain the monastery.
Some of the hobbies which the monks take up are brewing beer, knitting, beekeeping, running, collecting stamps, cooking, and more. The monks find great value in taking time out of their day to do these things that society might deem useless.
For example, Br. Simon told us about how he practices beekeeping as a way to learn patience. In addition, he collects the honey and sells it to sustain the monastery. Br. Nathaniel is a personal trainer, currently training for a marathon.
When we talked to him, he explained that does this because he believes in the importance of the mind and body working together as one. He said that he gets so much time for furthering of the mind, that he wants to make sure his body is given just as much attention.
The things that the monks do in their daily life may seem worthless in our society. We often find ourselves joining clubs in order to further our resume and look good to a professional employer or graduate program, or silently reflecting only when we are forced to. But the monks see it all in a different light.
By rejecting societal ideals, they are open to be themselves and use their time in the way that they see is best fit for the world. Though their rigid schedule may seem restricting, I learned that it is actually freeing. My time at St. Meinrad was a truly eye opening experience that I wish could be shared with everyone.
Now, I take time out of my day to do things that I know I need, such as meditation and silence, and I allow myself the space to take a step back from societal ideals so I can pursue hobbies that I love.
I believe that every person has an inner monk that is just waiting to be discovered, and finding it can be a major force for good.
Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Gawkins