2012 Year of Women Religious at 401 E. 20th Street, Covington, KY 41014 US - Benedictines and Community Life
Benedictines and Community Life
Sister Deborah Harmeling, O.S.B.
The Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery are members of the ancient monastic tradition of religious life that began in the sixth century with Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. Because the focus of the Rule of St. Benedict is monks living communally under the authority of an abbot, Benedict does not address ministry. For Benedict the purpose of this form of religious life was to “listen with the ear of your heart” and “return to God.” The work of the community was to be whatever would sustain it and at that point in time (the 500s), that work would have been agriculture, hospitality and the corporal works of mercy. It was only later in monastic history that monks began to perform Church ministries.
Today we Benedictines continue to follow the precepts of the Rule of St. Benedict. He reminds those who follow the Rule “to prefer nothing whatever to Christ.” Then he adds the prayer, “And may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.” So community life and prayer are priorities for us. We do not come to everlasting life by ourselves. Our community life involves eating meals together, doing dishes and household chores together, making decisions together, caring for our elderly and sick sisters together and offering hospitality to guests who are to be welcomed as Christ.
Preferring nothing to Christ, we pray the Divine Office four times a day together. The “Work of God,” St. Benedict’s term for our liturgical life including Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours, is the fulcrum of our daily schedule. Individually we practice lectio divina, sacred reading, which is a form of slow reading, meditation and contemplation of the Word of God in Scripture. Then we listen for what God calls us to do in service to the young and the old, the sick and the poor, the stranger and the guest. That service includes education, health care, administration, pastoral work, counseling, spiritual direction, social service, music and art.
A healthy Benedictine community calls for strong, flexible women who are devoted to listening for the voice of God through the life and prayer of the community. It calls for women who will take responsibility for the details of living together, such as cleaning, cooking, doing dishes, serving the elderly and sick and supporting the community financially. It calls for women who are willing to share their individual gifts and talents and who are willing to be stretched by the needs of the whole. It calls for every community member to participate in Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours through active planning or active participation.
Benedictine community life calls for intentional practice of community living. In today’s culture with its emphasis on individualism, this practice is somewhat out of the ordinary. We invite young women to come and experience seeking God in community with us.
Sister Deborah Harmeling, O.S.B. is a professed member of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery, Villa Hills. Visit the Benedictine Sisters online at www.stwalburg.org.