I just watched a very fascinating video on the life of the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene of Barroux, in short they are referred to as the monks of Le Barroux. It is a young community in history and in membership. An exemplary life according to an older and venerable way of being a Benedictine.
The documentary, “Watchmen of the Night” (2008), covers all the aspects and then some of Benedictine life, or may merely say, a life of truly living the New Testament. A viewer is intensely engaged in an hour long video that’ss in French with English subtitles.
Their work is “to pray in silence, and to pray to God in heaven.” With a clear ultimacy, monks serve no purpose; monks serve a someone. This is a difficult concept to accept for many people in this era: 5-6 hours of prayer, study, and work all for God. It’s a life totally and unconditionally oriented to the Eschaton.
The monastic life is one of many facets in Christian discipleship; it’s a vocation not given to all; and yet it’s an essential vocation in the life of the Church because of a definitive focus on the contemplative life. While all Christians are called to a life of contemplation, not all are called to a seriously focused life as a monk or a nun; all are called to be in relationship with the Lord though liturgical prayer, study, sacraments, mental prayer, and work, but not all are called to live this way in a community.
As the founder of Le Barroux, Dom Gerard (1927-2008) once said, “The monks unintentionally built Europe. It is an adventure that is primarily if not exclusively interior. They are moved by a thirst for the absolute, a thirst for another world. These monasteries, pointing to heaven, an obstinate reminder that there is another world of which this world is but an image, the herald, and the prefiguration.” So we follow the path given to us Christ.
The monks of Le Barroux are unique in some ways, others not so. In the American context Benedictines generally don’t (can’t, won’t?) do what these monks do, which is OK. I have to say, though, Le Barroux’s observances are beautiful. We don’t have to be clones but we have to have a freedom for excellence, which is not what we get in many American Benedictine monasteries. Too many are lackluster and ideological and unwilling to change. I happen to think we would do well to honestly look at Le Barroux to understand their way of proceeding, thus making an examination of conscience, not for the purpose of being “Barroux in the USA”, but to see how we all can walk more closely to what is proposed for salvation in the New Testament, the tradition of Holy Mother the Church and what the Benedictine sensibility-through-the-ages (the Holy Rule and the historical Benedictine charism) have to say today. In my limited knowledge Le Barroux gives a hermeneutic of continuity. The point, then, is to understand the contours of Grace and not to be too zealous by going beyond the grace God has given. Immature zeal will always frustrate the good in front of us.