Learning from the monks

The View from the Rectory Window
By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
This is the last in a series of articles where I am looking at the view from the monastery and seeing what I can learn as a diocesan priest from the monks!
Be prepared!
As a Boy Scout I learned the motto, “Be Prepared.” But at the monastery I never felt prepared. A diocesan priest prays the Liturgy of the Hours five times a day like a monk, but generally it is between apostolic work, such as confessions, celebrating the Mass, visiting the sick, or taking a nap. (Opps, did I let that slip out?)
Our brievery, or Liturgy of the Hours book is pretty easy to get around once you have done it a couple of years. But at the monastery, the prayers are the same, but the book is different. Not only is the book different, they use more than one book! At the same time!
Sliding into the choir stalls, which really you can’t slide because they are literally stalls. Like horse stalls. Separate seats, portioned from one another. Every mother’s dream sitting arrangement for her children on long car trips. Sitting down in my assigned stall early to get all the books in order, I noticed in front of me all the books neatly arranged, with the ribbons sticking out so I could readily follow the prayer.
Looking to my side, I saw Brother Gabriel whose head was deep into his chest. Asleep? Probably not, but definitely in repose. I was grateful knowing he had set up my books so I wasn’t distracting everyone flipping pages and turning books aside trying to keep up.
Settling into the stall, I was thinking I was special and perhaps Brother Gabriel liked me and therefore helped me out but then I noticed across the sanctuary another monk setting up the liturgical books for his neighbor. Thinking it would be another bewildered guest, I was surprised to see a long time member of the community coming to sit there.
What did elderly monk then do? Instead of sitting there content that his books were set up like I did, he in turn set up the books for his neighbor, who was also another monk. This went on from one stall to another until the organ began, signifying the beginning of Morning Prayer. It was a kind of a monastic “paying it forward!”
Helping some hapless diocesan priest guest is one thing, but help someone who doesn’t need the help is another. What an example I learned. One of helping out a neighbor, just as we were helped.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
Yes, you can learn a lot from the monastery. Mistakes, contemplative life, helping one another. I also learned there is nothing lost as a lesson from the Lord. One particular elderly monk, Brother Thomas, had the habit of exasperating his brothers by either being places they did not expect, such as giving guests tours in private areas of the monastery interrupting monks at work, or when they wanted him, he is absent.
The abbot, looking for Brother Thomas, and failing to find him said, “Brother Thomas is like the Risen Christ. He appears here, and then is gone again, only to appear again later.”
You can learn a lot at the monastery.
“Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.” Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict