It is a question that comes up when a non-Catholic family member hears that you entered a monastery. But, then again, the question arises when you visit your home parish and tell the regular Church-goers that you joined a monastic community and are a Benedictine monk.
In either instance, the question is posed, What is a monk?
If you hear the word, “monk,” and immediately imagine a Buddhist monk in an orange robe with a shaved head, then you are not alone. Most people are unfamiliar with Benedictine monastic life, even though its roots date back to St. Benedict of Nursia, who was born in the year 480 A.D and wrote a Rule for monks by which they ought to live. That means that Benedictine monks have been serving the Church in a variety of capacities, and praying for the world for over 1500 years. Conception Abbey was founded in 1873 by the Swiss monastery, Engelberg Abbey, and has been serving the needs of the local and universal Church in northwest Missouri’s Nodaway County.
During my fourth and final year of theological studies in preparation for the priesthood, I was assigned to Sts. John and Paul parish in Wexford, Pennsylvania. In many conversations with very good people, they showed great interest in monastic life, though many admitted it was an unknown topic to them. Some of the parishioners thought that monks were not allowed to speak, and it was as if I were breaking some kind of vow by continuing the conversation with them. While monks practice silence as a discipline, we do not take a vow of silence. I enjoy responding to someone who is curious and interested in learning more about monastic life. To be honest, I did not know anything about Benedictine monastic life until I began studying as a seminarian and was sent to Conception, Missouri to study at the Seminary College.
I thought it would be helpful to make a video that would address this question, so I asked several of the monks to respond. It is interesting to see how each monk responds when asked to define or distinguish they key aspect of a monk. Please feel free to share the video with friends and family.