“Ora et Labora Reflections”
Benedictine spirituality has a beautiful way of synthesizing the outer and the inner life, summed up in the motto: “ora et labora,” Latin for “pray and work.” My desire to understand this synthesis drew me to apply for the newly created Ora et Labora program at New Camaldoli. Over the last few months, I have had the incredible privilege of participating in the lives of the monks, and experiencing firsthand the day-to-day realities of the Camaldolese Benedictine monastic vocation. One monk aptly termed the program an opportunity for “temporary monasticism.” I came to learn about the monastic vocation and was humbled by what I found.
True to the Benedictine motto, I prayed with the monks, chanting the psalms with them every day. And of course, I worked, doing everything from housekeeping to cleaning the chapel, to preparing meals. A highlight was Holy Week, when I was asked to assist in the rich liturgical celebration of the Triduum. This was the culmination of my time here, a concrete realization of work and prayer flowing together in one stream. The monastic ideal of constant prayer is achieved if you approach polishing the chapel floor, rehearsing for Easter Sunday Mass, or reciting the psalms at 5:30 in the morning with the same inner attitude of love. Easier said than done!
The program also included a light course of study, with readings ranging from The Rule of St. Benedict to modern psychological texts on the spiritual life. Importantly, the Ora et Labora program is not a vocation discernment program: I entered with the understanding that I wasn’t formally discerning monastic life. I found this extremely helpful. Since I wasn’t constantly evaluating the community for long-term compatibility, I was free to simply be and let the depth of the monastic rhythms wash over me. Of course, the opportunity for more intentional discernment is always available, as the novice master was sure to remind me as we washed dishes together.
I could fill several spiral-bound notebooks about the lessons I’ve learned (right now, I’m at three-and-a-half): a deeper appreciation for liturgy, a new understanding of healthy monastic solitude, the necessity of a daily prayer practice… The most important take away for me, however, was simply the joy of seeing fraternal love in action. The unmistakable bond of brotherhood among the monks and the human realness of their efforts to build a common life are a sign post for the Kingdom. New Camaldoli offers a concrete and sincere example of a way to respond to Christ’s love.
I am deeply, deeply indebted to the hospitality and openness of the monks, as well as to the generosity of the benefactors who made the program possible. Now, my challenge is to “pay it forward,” to bring Camaldolese Benedictine spirituality to my life in the world, to apply the lessons I’ve learned. My time on this mountain has been sheer gift: pray that I can pass it along!