Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children, knowledge and light. A Benedictine oblate blog

Yesterday I visited a Catholic Benedictine monastery for 5:00 pm vespers and 8:00 pm compline.(1)

Between vespers and compline I went to the excellent library of the university that is adjacent to the monastery.

I used the time in the library to write yesterday’s blog while sitting in one of the out-of-the-way study carrels by the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Lake Jovita.

As it got dark outside I could tell that the library was filling with students. A few talked or chatted on their cell phones. All had notebook computers.

About 7:35 pm, I packed up from my work and had to walk the full length of the library to get to the front door. There was a low hum of student activity. One student was staring ahead, a couple of students appeared to be getting needed rest.

As I looked around the library, it was 40 years ago for me and I knew what they were feeling — college students working on a paper at night and on themselves when they had time.

I realized that the students were so young and that 40 years gives more experiences from which to learn the meaning of life and to find love. Ironically, these students were sitting in a place filled with knowledge, yet the knowledge to treasure might be found years ahead.

I wondered what I would have thought if a 60-year-old oblate had approached me while I was a student 40 years ago and asked if I wanted to hear about the things he once thought were true, but now knows to be dead ends? Yep, he would have been the last person I would have listened to.

I wondered about the path each of those students in the library last night would take in the next 40 years of their lives. I thought, they are young, will they gain true knowledge?

I walked to the abbey church and arrived there about 7:45 pm which gave me some time alone in the quiet, dark church before the monks came in one by one for 8:00 pm compline, the last divine office of the day.

After several minutes, I heard the solid click of the church’s heavy front door. There was no other sound, but after a little while, a black-robed monk walked slowly past me.

He is a monk in his 80s (at least). He is typically the first to enter the church before the divine offices.

This monk has been at the abbey since before WWII. Those years of monastic life came with him as he glided past me in the darkness.

He got to the steps at the front of the church. He stopped, he bowed deliberately to the altar. He took a few more steps and then stopped again to shift his weight slightly to the left to take the first step for the short climb to the choir stalls.

As I sat staring ahead, I wondered what this elder monk might have been thinking about me as he walked past in the dark. Could it have been: “He is young, will he see the light?”


(1) Vespers and compline are two of the daily divine offices.


  1. This really resonates with me, since we're about the same age and have had some of the same experiences. I hope that when (if) I turn 80 I'll be in as good shape as the old monk.

  2. Joe, thank you. He walks slowly, but other than that seems fit and at peace. His 60+ years as a monk might have some affect on us visitors.

    We hear new visitors to the monastery say, “as soon as we walked on the monastery grounds we knew there was something special here.”