Building a monastery of the heart

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Tuesday 18, May 2010 | Category:   Vocation and Discernment,Consecrated Life

St. Scholastica Chapel at Mount St. Scholastica
“Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?”

That’s the question that spoke to journalist and poet Judith Valente from the Rule of St. Benedict, which has guided Benedictine monastic life for about 1,500 years. The 17th-century bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet called the Rule “an epitome of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrines of the gospel, all the institutions of the Fathers, and all the counsels of perfection"—or, as Valente reported in an October 30, 2009 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly story, “It’s been said everything one needs to know about living the spiritual life is contained in this little book.”

Starting in June of 2008 the Rule had become Valente’s constant companion. She had been invited to share as a layperson in the life of Mount St. Scholastica, a Benedictine monastery for women in Atchison, Kansas (and a VISION Vocation Network advertising-community), for a book she’d been asked to write. “I admit I questioned at first what practical wisdom a monastery might hold for a modern, married, professional woman like me,” Valente said. “It turns out I’ve learned plenty.

“I used to think of monasteries as outmoded remnants of a past era,” Valente said. “But now, when I enter Mount St. Scholastica, I feel as if I’m peering into the future, a future our world so desperately needs—one that stresses community over competitiveness, service over self-aggrandizement, quietude over gratuitous talk, and simplicity over constant consumption. The Mount is a place where those who listen are valued as much as those who speak up; a place where people forgo personal wealth but want for nothing; where prayers are said for the victims of violent crime and bells are tolled when a Death Row prisoner is executed.”

Valente found another countercultural example in the monastic idea of stability. “At Mount St. Scholastica there are sisters who have lived together for as many as 75 years. Having moved from state to state here in the U.S. and lived in three European cities over the course of my career, the notion of spending one’s entire life in the same place seems quite foreign to me. In fact, the whole concept is alien to our highly mobile American society. Stability reminds us to grow where we’re planted.

“I suppose,” she said, “I am just one of the many Benedict has spoken to through the ages who yearns for life and desires to see good days. ‘Run, then,’ Benedict reminds me and all of us, ‘while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.’ ”

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