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  • Eyes Fixed on Jesus | Forty Years of Maronite Monastic Life in Massachusetts

Eyes Fixed on Jesus | Forty Years of Maronite Monastic Life in Massachusetts

While discerning a religious vocation as a young man Father Abbot William Driscoll felt himself drawn to the monastic way of life.  He joined the Trappists and spent six formative and fruitful years at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. For reasons of health, he was obliged to leave the monastery.

After many years of religious life in an order of Apostolic Life, he felt drawn back to the monastic life and was led to found a new order in the Church. “I thought to myself, ‘Why could there not be a monastic community of men devoted to the apostolate and ministry of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the life of the Church? Why could there not be a small community of men living a life of adoration in a monastic context under some monastic rule—a life lived in simplicity, regularity, and fidelity to the monastic ideal?’”

The community had a simple and humble beginning in a vacated convent until they could find  property suitable for a hermetical monastery built on the ideals of St. Sharbel.  After a few attempts at finding a suitable piece of property, in 1985 the community purchased the property in Petersham, Massachusetts on which the current monastery now stands.

Early on in the foundation Abbot William made the acquaintance of Archbishop Francis Zayek who invited the community into the Maronite Church. The deep monastic roots of the Maronite Church, together with the beauty and simplicity of its liturgy and the shining example of St. Sharbel were all motives to plant the seed of this new community in the soil of the Maronite Church. Since becoming Maronite, the community has been blessed with continual growth both in numbers and spiritually. This year the community celebrated its fortieth anniversary on September 8.

The monks live a simple life of prayer and work centered on the liturgy and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The structure of the day is fixed by the times of prayer: Morning Prayer at 5:20 am, Mass at 7:30am, Midday Prayer at 11:30 am, Evening Prayer at 6:20 pm and Night Prayer at 8:50 pm. The mornings are generally free for spiritual reading and adoration. We apply ourselves to our daily tasks during the afternoon work period. In addition to their liturgical prayer the monks spend two hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament each day. Our motto, “With Eyes Fixed on Jesus,” taken from the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, not only describes our life as religious, who look to Christ as their model in all things, but also sums up our charism as adorers of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a life centered wholly on Christ and which strives to put into practice the exhortation of St. Benedict to his monks: “Prefer nothing to the love of Jesus Christ.”

In striving to impart a vision of the monastic life to his monks, Abbot William has always emphasized that the monastic life is first and foremost the life of the Gospel. Following the teaching of all the great monastic founders we recognize that the first rule of life for the monk is the Holy Scriptures, especially the New Testament. It would be a false caricature of Christian monasticism to see it as some esoteric form of life on the fringes of Christianity. It is simply the Christian life, lived according to the evangelical counsels of Christ found in the Gospels: poverty, chastity and obedience.

The various forms in which Christians live out their vocation are reflections of different aspects of the life Christ. In order to have the entire life of Christ lived out in an eparchy, in addition to the pastoral clergy, there is a need to have those who are called to the ministry and apostolate of being constantly in the temple, worshipping God day and night in fasting and prayer (Luke 2:37). There are those who are called to sit at the feet of Christ to ponder his words: Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her (Lk 10:24).

In commenting on the withdrawn and hidden aspect of the monastic life Abbot William expounds, “Historians of the monastic movement so often write up monasticism as a ‘flight from the world.’ This thought never appealed to me. If the good Lord called me to be a missionary in the tropical jungles, or a pastor in the concrete jungles of our over-sized cities, or a member of the teaching apostolate, I would have been very happy to serve in these areas of apostolic life. I never have thought of myself here in the monastery as someone in outer space.  One has only to recall a significant statement recorded by the great St. Athanasius of Alexandria in his monumental biography of St. Anthony of the Desert. St. Athanasius recounts that when St. Anthony came out of his hermitage-fort after twenty years of complete solitude, the first thing he inquired was: ‘How goes it with the Emperor?’ His first thought was for his country. The expression ‘flight from the world’ means a flight from worldliness, a flight from sin and godlessness. It means especially a flight to the things of God to improve the world, a flight toward all God’s souls and a special love for all God’s creation.”

In the words of Fr. Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., in his autobiography, The Golden String, “Paradoxical though it may appear, it was the monastic life which made me realize as nothing else could have done that a monastery can never be merely an escape from the world. Its very purpose is to enable us to face the problems of the world at their deepest level, that is to say, in relation to God and eternal life.”

Everything in monastic life, down to the minutest details, has this view. We live for the Church, that is, for souls. And since the good Lord has raised up this monastery, its first apostolic outreach for souls is for all the wonderful souls of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Refection on Monastic Life

Abbot William, M.M.A.

 

On September 8, 1978 The Maronite Monastic Community, with the full blessing of Archbishop Francis Zayek, began the monastery dedicated totally to the monastic ideal, spirit and way of life of Saint Sharbel.  How do we explain and justify this high ideal in the present time?  How does Mother Church understand this manner for the post Vatican II life of the Church?                                             

 1  The first monastic fathers, Saint Anthony the Great (of the Desert), Saint Pacomius, Saint Augustine, Saint Benedict, and scholars of the monastic ideal, (whether East or West), all agree that theRule of the monk is Holy Scripture, especially, of course, the New Testament: “Seek first His kingship over you, His way of holiness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matt 6:33).

        The Scriptures remain the fundamental rule governing the monastic ideal of religious institutes, as all rules, and constitutions are amplifications, or accents of a special aspect or apostolate of the Scriptures.   The First Great Rule, laid down by Our Lord Himself forms the principle core of the monastic ideal, namely, the Sermon on the Mount, viz., the Beatitudes.  

2   “It is He (Christ) who gave APOSTLES, PROPHETS, EVANGELISTS, PASTORS and TEACHERS in roles of service for the faithful to build up the Body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature. Let us profess this truth in love and grow to full maturityof Christ the Head” (Eph 4:11).

3    When this is explained to a candidate and he grasps this and relates to it and seeks further explanation, this is a genuine sign that the grace of a vocation is in him.

There is one text that is a key to understanding the entire monastic program. This text is a “secret,” but it is an “open secret.” I’m inclined to say that only those who have the grace of a genuine and dedicated calling to the interior supernatural life will grasp this secret. I hasten to add that monks and nuns have no monopoly on this text, nor the grace of sanctification, nor the call to supernatural life. It is for all who are called to sanctity of life. The text in reference, I refer to is this simple imperative from the Rule of Saint Benedict: “Prefer nothing to the Love of Jesus Christ.”[1]

 

4       The words:   “Let us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus who inspires and perfects our faith.”[2]

All genuine and meaningful spiritual life can be found only in Christ, for Christ, and because of Christ.  Apart from Christ there is no reaching the Father.)   “Therefore, holy monks, who share a heavenly calling, fix your gaze on Jesus.”[3]

5     To all who live this dedicated monastic life of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, these texts of Scripture give the true spirit of our ideal. And they constitute the First Rule, the Principal Rule, and The Rule of all Rules, for a truly Catholic monastic and contemplative ideal.

6       A perennial objection to the monastic state of life is that one does not have to be a monk in order to give oneself totally to the Lord. For that matter, one does not have to be a monk to “Prefer Nothing to the Love of Jesus Christ.” What could be more obvious, more true? To come to this “full maturity of Christ the Head,” one also does not have to be a missionary, a pastor, a Christian educator, or a monk. But in all these ministries of serving the Lord and striving for Christian perfection, each one can discern his or her calling(a vocation) that the Lord is asking of the person. For those who receive the callto be a missionary, a pastor, a Christian educator, or a monk, will find their life most fulfilling. They give the best productive years of their life to their calling and find a complete fulfillment in so doing. For this reason also, the monk binds himself by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and a constitution to regulate and safeguard this dedicated form of life. The monk is only a Christian, but a Christian who lives the Gospel ideal in a program and manner of life that will facilitate his ability “to come to the full maturity of Christ the Head.”[4]

7     In the training for this consecrated life, the monk will, in time, learn the theology of the consecrated life, the theology of the monastic vows, and the theology of community living as the means to arrive at his calling and its fulfillment. The true monk strives especially for the virtue of humility. He does not live in a world of the “holier than thou.” He knows that God has His saints everywhere.

8        One reason, I suspect, that Catholics—not to mention non-Catholics—may be surprised to find that Catholic monasticism is based soley on Scripture, is that, in their mind, Catholic monasticism is a Christian variation or attempt at Buddhist or Hindu monasticism, or perhaps, some other esoteric fringe group on the periphery of Christianity living by esoteric rules, exercised in altered states of consciousness. Catholic Christian monasticism has nothing to do with these approaches to life, aside from therapeutic exercises recommended by a physician for physical health.  Christian monasticism has only that one principle rule, as St. Benedict expressed it “Nihil amori Christi praeponere”, “Prefer nothing to the Love of Jesus Christ.”

9         But to have the entire life of Jesus Christ lived out in his diocese, the bishop wishes also to have, along with his pastoral clergy, those called to the ministry and apostolate of being with Anna the Prophetess: “constantly in the temple worshiping God day and night in fasting and prayer.[5]There must be those who sit at the feet of Christ to “ponder His words.” It is Jesus Himself who tells us, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). The Bishop strives, then, to have communities of monks and nuns in his diocese who constantlyintercede for his faithful. The monastery may be canonically exempt from the bishop, being under a Superior General for its canonical governance, but the monastery must always realize why God has raised it up in a given Diocese(Eparchy). It is to be a powerhouse of prayer and reparation for the souls of that diocese. 

10       When all this is accomplished in his diocese, the bishop has the entire life of Christ being lived in his pastorate. Mother Church speaks loudly and clearly about developing the purpose of the monastery. In the 1996 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, Pope Saint John Paul II said contemplative institutes are “for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces.” Their members and mission “imitate Christ in their prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God’s lordship over history and anticipate the glory, which is to come.”

 

Pope Saint John Paul II continued:

In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, mortification and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. In this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church’s love for her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness,to the growth of the People of God.[6]

11     Historians of the monastic movement so often write up monasticism as a “flight from the world.” This thought never appealed to me. If the Good Lord called me to be a missionary in the tropical jungles, or a pastor in the concrete jungles of our over-sized cities, or a member of the teaching apostolate, I would have been very happy to serve in these areas of apostolic life. I never have thought of myself here in the monastery as someone “in outer space.” One has only to recall a significant statement recorded by the great Saint Athanasius of Alexandria in his monumental biography of Saint Anthony of the Desert. Saint Athanasius recounts that when Saint Anthony came out of his hermitage-fort after twenty years of complete solitude, the first thing he inquired was “How goes it with the Empire?” His first thought was for his country.    Now, the expression, “flight from the world,” means a flight from worldliness, a flight from sin and godlessness. It means especially a flight to the things of God to improve the world, a flight toward all God’s souls and a special love for all God’s creation.

12     Father Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., founder of a monastic Catholic  Ashram monastery in India, relates a telling and significant apostolic insight into this understanding of the monastic vocation and manner of life in his autobiography,The Golden String:  Fr. Bede writes:

        “Paradoxical though it may appear, it was the monastic life which made me realize as nothing else could have done, that a monastery can never be merely an escape from the world. Its very purpose is to enable us to face the problems of the world at their deepest level, that is to say, in relation to God and eternal life.”  Everything in the monastic life, down to the minutest detail, has this view. We live for the Church, that is, for souls.

      And since the Good Lord has raised up this Maronite monastery, its first apostolic outreach for souls is for all God’s wonderful souls of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, USA.


[1]          Ch.4,no.21.

[2]          Heb 12:2.

[3]          Heb 3:1.

[4]          Eph3 and 4ff.

[5]          Luke 2:37ff.

[6]          Vita Consecrata,Pope John Paul II, 1996.

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