Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani prepare to eat lunch in their dining hall in Trappist, Ky. Fifty men live in the community.

CNS PHOTO | MARNIE MCALLISTER

Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani prepare to eat lunch in their dining hall in Trappist, Ky. Fifty men live in the community.

June 20, 2011
MARNIE MCALLISTER
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

TRAPPIST, KY. — On one sunny spring morning the Abbey of Gethsemani's idyllic, secluded grounds reflected the quiet reverence of its inhabitants.

The Trappist monks, gathered in the abbey church, kept silent when they weren't chanting. The monks who live at the abbey refrain from speaking during meals and generally live a quiet, contemplative life. They celebrate Mass each day, and they pray (typically chanting) the Liturgy of the Hours at seven intervals throughout the day — sometimes for just 10 or so minutes at a time. In between, they continue their work.

Each day at Gethsemani is punctuated by the rhythm of this disciplined prayer life. The discipline doesn't appear rigorous, but it is ever-present.

"This is a great place to live," said the community's vocation director, Brother Luke Armour, speaking during one of the several intervals between prayer.

A DELICATE BALANCE

"Clearly it's not for everyone. This balance of prayer, work and study propels you right through life and in the plan of God and the care of God — beautifully fulfilling and enriching," he said in an interview. Then, Armour stopped his train of thought and said, "It's time for praise. I'll see you in 10 minutes. To me," he said as he stood to go, "that's irresistible."

Brother Luke Armour

Brother Luke Armour

Armour, a welcoming soul to all those who encounter him on the abbey's grounds, is also the community's choirmaster — which means he plays organ during each interval of prayer and tends to the community's musical needs.

Between prayer, the monks tend to the tasks of running a very large house. Some monks wash dishes, others serve in the infirmary and they all take turns doing housekeeping duties. They also work in the food-gift industry — making cheese, bourbon fudge and fruitcake. Monks also run the guesthouse, providing hospitality to visitors and retreatants.

GLORY OF GOD

The needs of the community create plenty of activity. Yet their lifestyle focuses the monk's efforts on completing their work intentionally, contemplatively and for the glory of God.

Such an outlook on life is lost to many said Trappist Father Alberic Farbolin, regional secretary for formation and vocation promotion for all 17 of the Trappist communities in the United States.

"It is our firm belief that contemplation is a fundamental human capacity — like the capacity to fall in love, to work, to make music, to play sports," he said in an email interview.

Monks take part in the recessional following Mass in the abbey church.

CNS PHOTO | MARNIE MCALLISTER

Monks take part in the recessional following Mass in the abbey church.

"It is astonishing to us that many people seem to go through life evidently unaware that — at any moment and in any place — you can simply quiet yourself, be still, and, in the depths of your heart, encounter the living God who is the source of life, love, forgiveness and the deepest meaning of life," he said.

Gethsemani's vocation director for seven years, Brother Armour approaches this ministry with great care, he said. He's also prepared to find new ways of doing his job and adapting to the needs of young people today.

At a meeting in Conyers, Ga., Armour and vocation directors from 15 other Trappist communities in the U.S. gathered to discuss their effort to promote vocations. One topic addressed the characteristics of today's young Catholics.

NEEDS OF YOUTH

They discovered, among other things, "we have to learn to adapt to their (young adults') perspective for the survival of religious life." Also, for young adults, "the practice of communal prayer is seen as attractive," as well as community and mission, said Armour. "These are hallmarks of the monastic life, and we believe these are attractive draws for the new generation. So we need to educate and inform them this is how we live."

In turn, he noted, each Trappist community also has to adjust its thinking to promote vocations "and ask ourselves the question, 'How ready are we to move beyond the status quo? To adjust to changes that new members will bring?'"

(Information for those interested in a Trappist vocation is available at monks.org and at www.trappists.org. Trappist monasteries in Canada are located in Holland, Man., Dolbeau-Mistassini, Quebec, and Rogersville, N.B.)