Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grape #8: A Monk's Life

Someone recently asked me what my schedule was like when I lived as a vowed religious.  It feels like common knowledge to me, but I'm sure this will be news to most of you.  So here's a brief look into what things were like on a day to day basis inside the monastic life.  This reflection may stand out in style from my other grapes, but as always, every little bit of who we are is part of our relationship to divine/the vine.

Every monastery/order is different, so what I did while I was there will invariably be different from many other places.  My community was a teaching community, so we lived in a building attached to the high school that the Brothers owned and ran.  As I was just 18 when I joined in June of 1993, I still had college ahead of me.  The Brothers paid for our college completely, and I even went to the school I wanted to go to anyway (Manhattan College).  Manhattan College is in Riverdale, NY (The Bronx) and their community is on Long Island, so we commuted each day to school.

So on a normal weekday:

We'd wake up at 5:30 AM, have morning prayer and mass from 6:00 to 7:00, breakfast after until 7:30, and dishes briefly after that as a community (all of this was all 34 of us).

The older teaching brothers would head off to classes and offices in the school, while the young brothers (4-5 of us) would get on the road around 8 AM.  First class was 9:05 AM.

We'd drive back home after school, usually get in around 5 PM, do some school work (or occasionally nap!), have meditation in the chapel from 6:20 to 6:40, and evening prayer from 6:40 to 7:00.

Dinner would follow until about 7:45 (cooked by 3 of the Brothers and we'd all rotate in these jobs).  Dishes and cleanup afterward as a community.

Four nights a week from 8:30 to 9:20 PM or so, the young brothers would have a "house class" (with one of our superiors) about different courses relevant to life as a religious.

At 9:30 PM we'd join the rest of the community until 9:50 for night prayer (Compline). 10 PM was the beginning of "The Great Silence" when you couldn't speak too loudly in the halls and a lot of people went to bed. 

As a college student, I somehow had to squeeze in my studies too, and as I got my Bachelor of Arts in both English Literature and Theology through lots of classes to satisfy the double major, I must have gone to bed closer to midnight most nights.  Not nearly enough schoolwork time, but I found a way to make it work and fill in some studying throughout the school day too. 

As you can imagine, it was a full day every day!  Getting to bed by midnight and then up at 5:30 AM to shave and shower?  For an 18-22yo?  Not easy! 

Weekends were a little different:

Full bar on Friday and Saturday nights with dinner in a relaxed living room setting.

Mass Saturday was at 8 AM, and Sunday it was 9:30 AM (enough time for an hour and a half of tennis with another brother on warm days).

Saturdays were laundry day for the 4-5 young brothers, as the laundry of 34 men takes all day once a week!  Sometimes the older brothers would do this and we'd be assigned to other tasks around the house or the school.  In my 4 years there, I learned to paint, cook, and was an electrician's apprentice.  The brothers all had various talents, and we took care of 99% of everything needed to keep the community as self-sufficient as possible.

Once every 6 weeks or so, I was allowed to visit my family for about 6-7 hours on a Sunday.  I wouldn't go home for Christmas or my birthday or any holidays, as the brothers "were my family now".

And that's the short version!  

Life itself, its ups and downs, the interpersonal relationships for good and bad, the retreats and time off from school all changed the schedule slightly here and there, but for the most part, the above is a "brief" insight into what I faced for my four years as Brother Sean.

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