The Ideal of Monastic Love

One learns the discipline of service in community. And it is this discipline which in turn opens one to the workings of the Spirit.

For a group of men to live together in harmony and peace there must be sacrifice and generosity. The good of the brothers and the interests of others must often take precedence over one's own desires. Selfless service of others is a great school of


And yet it is love of a particular sort. It is different from familial love, since the monastery is not strictly speaking a family. The relation of husband and wife, parents and children is not there. We speak of the "monastic family", but only in a loose sense of the word. It would be fatal to look for the monastic community to supply what one would normally have in a family.

It is more than fraternal love, since a monastery is not just a fraternity. One does speak more correctly of the monks having brotherly love for one another, yet even this must be understood correctly. They are more than "buddies." More than comrades. More even than brothers in the flesh. Their love for one another is primarily in Christ. It is because they love Christ that they love one another.

The ideal of monastic love is noble and not easily come by. It takes time and effort and grace to bring it about. But a community of men with genuine love for one another in Christ is a great joy. It is a profound force in the world, able to move mountains. It will not always be obvious, even to those who share in it. This kind of love is deeper than smiles and camaraderie, a certain effusive sentiment. It is a kind of love that makes death for one's brother easy and understandable

Thus monks wash each other's clothes and do the dishes and cook the food; they clean toilets and type letters and make fruitcakes, and get dinner ready. They work, in other words, and endeavor to work literally for love.

And it is this discipline of service which opens the heart and makes a man available to the Lord who would woo his heart if He could get close enough. It is service that lets God in because selfishness is in the process of being driven out.

-- Fr Matthew Kelty



The monk gives body to one aspect of the Christian life, and that is prayer, particularly prayer in solitude. The monk is with Christ on the mountain alone at night, with Christ in the forty days in the desert, in the garden of Gethsemani, in the hidden years. But those in monastic life are not his companion in the ministry, in the healing, in his miracles, or even in his passion and death. The Christ at prayer is the monk's Christ and everything follows from that, though what follow may well include ministry, preaching, miracles, passion and death, should God will.

No one can follow Christ in everything, but one can follow Christ with a particular attention to a particular aspect of his life.

We do not take Christ apart; Christ is whole and cannot be divided. Yet, in our accompanying him we are with him sometimes visibly and sometimes not, most often not.

Christ did nothing worthwhile for thirty years. One carpenter more or less in Nazareth could scarcely have mattered. For all practical purposes, they were wasted years. And it is precicely to that kind of waste that most people are called. And even within the scope of his few public years, Christ was wont to waste further time by running off to the hills when there was work to be done. Even in the few years he did apostolic work, as we call it, he reached few, healed fewer, and in the end succeeded only in raising so much opposition and ill-will that they put him to death.

In all of that I see no justification whatever for the notion that work for God necessarily means a life of feverish action.

As for the monks....... The futility of saying: "What good is it? What use? Who needs it? Who needs incense? Who needs bells? Can't you get yourself a watch? Who needs cowls and choir stalls and cloister and abbot?" No one, really, if that is your approach. Who needs song and dance? Who needs processions and icons and candles? Candles --- in the monastic church.... All these lights on --- 39 of them, 12,000 watts --- and you light candles. This is madness.

In a context of beauty and peace, barren of noise and strife, some people thrive. Call it a contemplative identity if you will, a certain cast of soul that prefers inner to outer, pondering to preaching, quiet to action.

That's why Brother Joachim was right when he answered the question of a couple wandering in the woods: "What do you do?"

"I am a monk."

"We know that. But what do you do?"

And Brother Joachim answered with that intensity he is capable of: "I am a monk."

So I pass the question to you: "What do you do?"

--- Fr Matthew Kelty



Some kinds of people are much drawn to monasteries and must be warned that such a life is not good for them, and may even do them much harm. Normally such persons will be noted before they enter, but a great deal of anguish can be spared them if they do not even move that far along the road toward something that is not meant for them.

People with emotional hang-ups of serious dimensions - enough to require hospitalization - ought to stay clear of monasteries no matter how strongly they feel God is calling them to enter one.

Let us put it plainly: monastic life is no picnic. Day by day there is really nothing very difficult about it, but put a number of days in a row, one after another, and certain types are apt to climb the walls. Some people cannot stand silence, seclusion, quiet, a lack of excitement and diversion.

If you do not like people, the monastery is no place to go. If you hate the world, this is no place to come. If you get moody and depressed, this will crush you for sure.

To ask for healthy young men from a culture such as ours is to ask a great deal. But there must be a certain amount of good sense, of courage, and of enthusiasm. There will have to be a love for life and a desire to truly live.

Narrowing it down to what makes the contemplative calling we might add: a sense of wonder.

And a certain intuitive grasp that there is something else beside action. That while action is good enough and absolutely necessary, there is another side of the coin: there is something to be said for musing, for pondering, for mulling.

There ought to be a desire to go to some place where men pray, yes; where they work, yes; where they read good books, yes ..but in addition to that, where they do nothing. Where the pause that refreshes is not a drink .... A place for men who love the night, and know the moon, who listen to birds sing and watch the wind in the grass on the hill.

And men who can take discipline, can accept the responsibility of being who they are and what they are.

Fr Matthew Kelty


Perhaps one of the things that is envied in the monk's life is his silence. In a world becoming daily more noisy, the idea of quiet, of a life in which there are areas of silence becomes very attractive.

Silence is a privilege to which all are entitled and of which most are robbed in this age. The monk is not a freak for loving silence; he is simply normal and human.

Silence is a real part of monastic life. It is perhaps the greatest single factor in spiritual growth. Without it nothing happens.

It is not a matter of taciturnity. Men who do not easily and happily communicate with their fellowmen do not make good monks. A lack of sensitivity to others is no sign of a Trappist vocation. On the other hand, the monk must gradually acquire a feeling for silence.

One reason monks rise early to pray is the quiet of night. Darkness is a kind of visual quiet and monks love it. The hours before dawn are sacred.

Silence need not make monks a weird crew, though this sometimes happens when common sense is abandoned. Monks in former times went to great lengths to "keep silence."

Their efforts strike modern people as somewhat theatrical and showy. But unless a man can see the point of silence he might just as well not bother coming to the monastery. It is inevitable that the whole thing will never mean anything to him. He has to have a feeling for this kind of thing.

Simply has to.