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Being a Monk in the 21st Century

The Gospel announced 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ is at the heart of monastic life, and the Rule of St Benedict – written 1,500 years ago – provides its practical expression. As 21st-century monks, we are aware of being humble heirs of a tradition extending back over a thousand years.

Nevertheless, we look to the future rather than to the past. This is because, as heirs, our duty is to enrich and hand on what we have received. Tradition is by definition living. But above all, it is because our task as monks is to set our eyes on God who comes to us and bear witness to the world that is to come.

Nevertheless, we do not deny that we are men of today’s world. Jesus himself – whom we seek to follow as closely as possible – was fully a man of his time.

Being 21st-century monks therefore includes a challenge: to find a contemporary expression of the monastic ideal described in St Benedict’s Rule. We often ask ourselves the following question: “What do we need to change in our way of life to make it truly faithful to the Rule of St Benedict and what should we leave as it is? Faced with modern innovations, what can we welcome into the monastery and what should we keep out?”

This is something we have asked ourselves about new technology. We realize that technology is never bad in itself but simply that it can be put to good or bad use. The internet enables monks to travel the world while remaining physically present in their monastery. But are they really observing the enclosure St Benedict wants for his disciples?

In practice, various work departments in the monastery, such as the cellerar's office (i.e. the monastic bursar) and publishing house, have internet access. It can also be used by monks who need it for their work. When used discerningly and under obedience, the internet is a wonderful tool that actually safeguards enclosure: many tasks that previously took us out of the monastery can now be done from within our enclosure.