Although some may be surprised to hear it, monasticism is alive and well in the modern day. There are various forms of monasticism practiced in the 3rd millenium, but many men and women are still living out the vocation of developing a singular (mono) focus on God. The most venerable practice of monasticism in the western world, in the Roman Catholic Church, is Benedictine monasticism, whose practitioners seek to live out the wisdom of St Benedict as codified in his Holy Rule.
A singular focus on the divine presence
The Holy Rule of St Benedict, written in the first half of the 6th century can be summarized in first verse of chapter 19, “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and, ‘that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked,’ (Prov 15:3).” The singular focus of the monk is becoming aware of the divine presence everywhere. St Benedict arranges the life of the monastery to facilitate this loving awareness of the divine presence, such that the monk can experience God’s loving gaze in all he does–in prayer in common, in personal prayer (lectio divina), in the Abbot, in the monastic brethren, in the guest, in the sick, in work, in meals, in the morning, in the evening, awake and asleep.
Above all in the divine office
In addition to setting out the truth that the divine presence is everywhere and establishing this as the singular focus of the monk, St Benedict goes on to teach the monk where he can best develop this sensitivity–in the Divine Office. St Benedict writes, “But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.” (RB 19:2) St Benedict knows that the Church’s prayer, the divine office, in which the monks gather together and pray the psalms, is the place where God’s presence is most obviously experienced. Just as in other areas of our lives (sports, art, writing, engineering), we benefit from practicing in a simpler environment. This liturgical prayer is the simplest environment for us to become aware of the divine presence. From the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic liturgy to the presence of God in the praying community, “enthroned on the praises of his people” (Psalm 22), we can best develop our sensitivity to the divine presence through the liturgy, which St Benedict calls the divine office.