You know your conversation with a Benedict monk is going to be interesting when one of the first things he says is “I have a lover…” his eyes dancing with mischief. My eyes grow wide in anticipation, as Brother Ignatius pauses dramatically “…God” he says laughing.
So what does a Benedict Monks Life Really Look Like? Brother Ignatius gives me the scoop. He comes from Indonesia and contacted the Monastery of San Benedetto via email indicating his interest in joining the brotherhood. He’s been there for six years and appears to be in his 20s.
There are eight prayers a day, the first starting at 4:00 am. This may sound tedious to an outsider (OK to me, but Brother Ignatius says, “Here we found a love so great, that’s why we meet God so often. In this way our mind is always turned towards God – our lover so to speak.”
In addition to praying each monk has his responsibilities, and must find a balance between prayer and artistic enterprises. Many monasteries produce iconic paintings, publish books, make jam, chocolate or hand-craft rosaries. The monks of Norcia will be producing their own beer starting in July. Brother Ignatius is the Guest Master so he has a lot of contact with the public, which takes up a good chunk of his day. Our group of bloggers was privileged enough to be given access to observe one of the daily prayers, something normally closed to the public:
Brother Ignatius stayed around to chat with us, perhaps only expecting a couple of questions, and not my interrogation, which lasted nearly an hour. I ‘m sure he had many other things to do besides answer my questions, but he smiled and simply said that it was “God’s will” and that “Guests have to be made as welcome as Christ himself.” He certainly made me feel welcome!
Meals in a Benedict Monastery
Meals are mostly vegetarian with meat being eaten only a few times of year, but when I asked about monks sneaking meat into their diets as I had heard the monks of Maulbronn Monastery in Germany had done, he thought for a moment and considered my question, “Well sick people are allowed to eat meat, so if a monk really wanted to eat meat, he could just happen to visit the infirmary at lunchtime.” There was that mischievous smile of his again.
Misconceptions about Being a Benedict Monk
Brother Ignatius didn’t hesitate to answer “Many people assume that monks are Buddhist, but the Benedict monks are actually Catholic.”
Entertainment and Access to the Outside World for a Benedict Monk
Brother Ignatius responded with “The world I entered is the most beautiful entertainment in the world.” He said that monks weren’t allowed to listen to the radio, but they did have a church newspaper listing the most important events. Each monk also had Internet access and could have an email account. He still keeps in touch with family and friends and is allowed an annual visit to see his family.
Not So Final Reflections on my Conversation with a Benedict Monk
I’m not a religious person, but was fascinated and intrigued by my conversation with Brother Ignatius. The conversation was peppered with humor and spirituality. I didn’t want it to end and could have talked to him for hours.
I don’t plan on becoming a monk, or even going to church more often, if I’m being completely honest, (sorry to disappoint you Brother Ignatius, but then again you wouldn’t be disappointed because monks aren’t supposed to have wants right?) but I left our conversation full of gratitude. Grateful that Brother Ignatius opened my mind and made me think in a different way. Grateful to challenge some of my ideas about what entertainment. Thankful that he cleared up some of the misconceptions I had about monks and about life in a monastery, which I had previously imaged to be rather dull. So thank you Brother Ignatius, your time with me was not wasted, and I continue to reflect on our conversation. I have even started to do daily meditations, although nowhere nearly as long or as dedicated as yours, but it’s a start.
P.S. And yes, I did score Brother Ignatius’s email. I’m keeping that for myself, but I will share the Monks of Norcia Facebook page.
Also of interest in Umbria:
- Contact the Monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia if you would like to have a conversation with a monk.
- Explore Monti Sibillini, the only national park in Umbria
- Visit Marmore’s Falls, the tallest man-made waterfalls in the world
- Challenge yourself at Activo Park on the acrobat course
- Visit Perugia, the charming capital of Umbria