Part of the herd of cows on the farm
(photo Norm McFarlane)
Can we imagine the monk
Benedict returning to his monastery from the fields, carrying on his shoulders the tools
of this work? That is how St. Gregory the Great saw the blessed man, Benedict, in the book
of the Dialogues, recording the life of Benedict.
In his Rule for Monasteries, Benedict assigns a considerable portion of time to work as an important aspect of the whole monastic life: "when they live by the labour of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks" (Rule Ch 48). Benedict speaks strongly against idleness when he writes, "Idleness is the enemy of the soul: Consequently, the life of the monks is described as a succession of prayer, praise, meditation and work. These aspects of the daily life in the monastery, "the house of God", assume the value of sacredness; they create harmony and peace in the individual monk and in the community, so that in all things God may be glorified, which is the very purpose of creation.
In the course of the centuries, historical, sociological and economic changes have brought about an evolution in the understanding of work within society at large. Such changes have influenced the life of the monastic family, and their understanding of work. The work envisaged by the Rule of Benedict was primarily manual - work in the fields, the kitchen, the library, the classroom and in the reception of guests.
Icon painting class
(Photo Theo Robinson OSB)
Gradually another aspect of
work became important in the monastery: the intellectual work of study, writing,
teaching, preaching, evangelising, sharing with others the richness of Christian life.
Manual and intellectual work when they are undertaken seriously and are seen in the vision of faith and the light of the Gospel will make of the monastery a powerful centre of Christian life, where the monks will celebrate the liturgy of the Church and the liturgy of their own lives to the glory of God and to the welfare of the whole human family.
Monks collecting the hay
(Photo Monastery Archive)
The value and greatness of
human work are well presented by our holy father, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical
letter, "Laborem Excercens" (1981). Some of the statements contained in this
letter give us a clear vision of the spirituality of work: by our work we share in the
work of God the creator, our work finds its full explanation in the light of the paschal
mystery of death and resurrection - Christ too was one who worked to earn his living by
the work of his hands and drew many images for his teaching from this experience - and
work can be an exercise of charity. All work done with the right intention, with
seriousness and responsibility, benefits one's neighbour. The Christian knows that work
serves not only progress on earth, but also the progress of the Kingdom of God.
These words of the Pope confirm the vision of work described in the Rule and the tradition of monastic work handed down through centuries.
Preparing an article for publication
(Photo Theo Robinson OSB)
Arcadia, considerable time is spent in the maintenance of the monastic life - cooking,
cleaning, washing - and in hospitality to guests. Monks work in the local Arcadia parish
community (Diocese of Broken Bay),
in the parish of Smithfield and on the monastic farm. Individual talents are reflected in
the work in the house: historical research, icon painting, gardening. Monks provide
retreats, counselling, teaching, writing, lecturing and chaplaincy. Above all, the
monastery places great emphasis on hospitality in it many and varied forms.
The monks of Arcadia continue to join with the God who calls them to give dignity to human labour and so continue the saving work of Christ.
(Artwork Teresa Gambino)