Learning lessons from the monks

St Benedict: "Prefer nothing to the work
of God, ie singing his praise in church".
The recent disastrous revelations about child abuse in England's Benedictine schools (most recently at St Benedict's Abbey, Ealing) raise an important question about the nature of a religious vocation as well as being a very painful embarassment for Catholics in the UK. The Carlile report, which has recommended that the monks at Ealing should be relieved of the governance of the school altogether, drew attention to what Carlile saw as the monastic community's commitment to forgiveness and trust on the one hand and the welfare of the children on the other.

There are many issues here about governance, about procedures and about priorities. (Children, in a school, always come first). I think however, that in the long term this is going to be good news for the monks because it will probably force a return to old priorities. For the vocation of a monk is to pray, not essentially to run schools. The kind of person who can keep his head in a modern school is not necessarily the same kind who could devote his life completely to prayer. In combining schoolmastering (at a a time when that profession is rapidly evolving) and monasticism, the monks have perhaps been making a poor job of both.
There are communities in the Catholic Church which exist to run schools and hospitals or some other kind of active mission. And of course there is a whole army of faithful Catholic lay teachers, many with families. Praying is for them an important part of their day, but it does not completely define their vocation in the way it does for a monk. They need to have their feet firmly on professional ground, to be eminently practical, to be experts in their field.

The Second Vatican Council called explicitly for religious congregations to return to their traditional charisms. For the monk that means a life devoted to prayer. There ought to be consecrated religious men and women in education, but their life, spirituality and formation ought to be adapted to their professional as well as religious calling.

Communities such as Quarr and Pluscarden which have never had schools must think themselves especially blessed at this difficult time for monasticism in the UK.


berenike said…
Even among the "just plain Benedictines", different congregations have different traditions. Many congregations have spent the past sixty or so years recovering their proper charism after being Jesuitified (with the best intentions, and no doubt to great spiritual benefit as well) for long decades. The unification and homogenification of all the orders into about three was described in Hadrian VII, which is reason enough to think that it is possibly a bad idea ...

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