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How Is Monastic Life Lived at St. Emma’s?
For St. Benedict, the search for God colors all facets of the monastic life and, therefore, of our life. This faith-based life finds its expression in giving ourselves to God through our vows. Daily it is expressed in trying to have God as Number 1 in our lives, in the time we give to the praise of God in The Liturgy of the Hours, in daily Mass, lectio divina and in personal prayer and reading. Our faith-based life seeks to see Christ in our superior, our Sisters (where our beautiful title of “Sister” originates), the sick, the guests. Our work, putting our prayer and love into practice, we are asked to use the “tools of the monastery as sacred vessels” of the altar — as indeed they are!
Here at St. Emma’s, our rich monastic tradition dates back to 1035, the founding of our motherhouse in Eichstätt, Germany where our 40 founding Sisters entered. This tradition shaped the lives of our Sisters during their 56 years as they worked at St. Vincent Archabbey, College and Seminary until 1987 and shaped the lives of us who have entered St. Emma Moanstery since 1961. Our community is further enhanced and blessed by our close association with our Benedictine brothers at St. Vincent Archabbey.
Our day is full and centered around the praise of God — The Liturgy of the Hours — which we chant together six times daily beginning with Vigils at 5:25 a.m. The Office of Lauds is at 6:30 followed by our daily communal celebration of the Eucharist at 7:00. The Eucharist, the high point of our day, provides us with the food for the journey, both in Word and Sacrament.
That “food for the journey” we also experience in our formal, communal meals. Just as we are nourished by the Body and Blood of our Lord during Holy Mass, so we are nourished at table by food and drink. Just as we are nourished by the Word proclaimed at Holy Mass, so we are nourished by table reading during our meals. Our monastic refectory, further expresses this idea through faceted glass windows that came from our previous chapel and depict six moments of the Mass.
In the mornings after the celebration of the Eucharist and the office of Terce, we have time set aside for lectio divina (sacred reading), with is followed by our morning work period. The work of our hearts, the expression of our prayer, is very varied; it includes cooking, gardening, caring for our infirm members, sewing, working in the office, working in our gift and book shop or taking care of the details of that go into our retreat work. These are works of hospitality towards one another and in preparing everything for the retreatants or cleaning up and preparing for the next group. We have a second work period in the afternoon as well.
The morning comes to a close with the midday offices of Sext and None, which is followed by lunch. After lunch we have personal time until our second work period begins. During personal time Sisters may read, enjoy our grounds, spend time in chapel or take a needed nap.
After another period of work, the pray Vespers and have supper (clean up time always comes with meal time!). The community then gathers for a time of recreation together. What is recreation? It is time to sit and share what has happened that day, play various games, enjoy each other’s company or perhaps even enjoy a game of badminton or other lawn game!
Our day comes to a close with the office of Compline which signals the beginning of our time of sacred silence which lasts until after Mass the following morning. The time remaining after Compline until a Sister goes to bed provides another time for reading and personal prayer.
Our monastic life is a life of love, lived out in service to God and to others. It is a life full of possibilities to discover our true selves hidden under many layers. It is a life spent searching and seeking after God, because we never can truly finally grasp Him until we stand before Him at the end of our lives. It is a life spent on a journey, learning in this “school of the Lord’s service” what it means to truly to “have our hearts enlarged and run in the way of God’s commandments” (cf Prologue, Rule of St. Benedict).