Two weeks ago I went to St. John’s Abbey, north of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to make my annual spiritual retreat. Usually guests are expected to stay at the guest house. However, since there was no room there, the monks were gracious enough to accommodate me in the monastery. I was very pleased to stay with those Benedictines and join them not only at prayer but also in their meals. Several monks spoke with me during mealtimes and gave me a firsthand perspective on monastic life.
Two things stood out about them. Following the motto given them by their founder, St. Benedict, - Ora et labora - they dedicate themselves to prayer and work. If I may describe their two principal commitments I can say that they are committed to God and to their community. I sensed a deep joy among them. Even the elderly members who probably have spent several decades in community are happy individuals. Their joy springs from their sense of the Lord and their rapport with their brothers.
When I arrived at the monastery it was quite late. Fr. Francisco, the guest master, was waiting for me. He said to me, “First, I will take you to the most important part of the monastery.” Then he walked me into their huge, imposing church. Then he said, “I will now take you to the second most important part of the house – the dining room.” In fact, he sat down with me to have his dinner with me. I was so deeply touched by his hospitality.
Those monks make the Lord their first priority. They get together for prayer three times a day. They recite the Divine Office which every priest and deacon are expected to pray daily. They celebrate Mass communally. We can say that their lives revolve around the church and prayer. When we priests here at St. Paul get together on Mondays to do the Evening Prayer, we take about ten minutes. The monks spend over thirty minutes to do the same prayer. Their prayer is focused and deliberate. It is very easy to see that the Lord is their first priority.
Their second priority is the community. They gather for meals three times a day. From the few conversations I had with them at table it became clear to me that they do enjoy each other’s company. One can hear much laughter in the dining hall. Even though the monks are closed up within the walls of their monastery, they do not seem to miss out too much on life. Their sense of community includes not only their confreres but also the students at the university and the people in the parishes where they minister.
As we begin our new school year, I think we can take our cue from these monks. I would like to invite every household in the parish to embrace these two realities as our top priorities for this year: God and family. Let God be the first in our lives and let our families follow.
What do we need to do to make God our first priority? Keep God always in the consciousness of the family members. Go to Sunday Mass regularly. Talk about your faith at home. Make sure that if you have children, their faith education is taken care of. Pray as a family at least a couple of times a day – at meals and bedtime. Share the stories of saints and nurture devotion to Mary, our mother. Create a Catholic home.
In order to make family our second priority, we need to order everything in our lives to serve the interests of the family. We work to earn a living. Our work concerns cannot crowd out our family demands. Everyday have at least one meal together. As we set around the table, let us share our stories. If you have teenagers, let them know that they can come to you with all their problems. Help them realize that you will love them even if they make certain mistakes. In other words, create a safe haven for everyone in the household.
Let us begin this new school year with loads of joy and optimism. When I was in Rome in May, I had the privilege of seeing Pope Francis at the General Audience. I witnessed how the people were drawn to him because of the joy and hope that he exudes. Let us then start the year heeding his words:
Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy; this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.
Let us pray for a peaceful, grace-filled year for our children and for ourselves. As always, let us be united in prayer.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...