Bare Ruined Choirs

As a monk who has lived for almost forty years in a Benedictine monastery, I have had this recurring thought: Monasteries of men and women living the Benedictine Rule are an endangered species. In the near future, these places run the risk of becoming religious theme parks, places where an ancient spiritual heritage draws visitors from the outside who stop by briefly but do not stay to become monks or nuns themselves.

Several developments contribute to this phenomenon. The number of vowed monks has been in decline for decades, especially in North America and Europe, a trend that promises to continue. At the same time, this pattern has been accompanied by a marked increase in the number of lay oblates and associates, and in the rise in popularity of apparently all things monastic. Think of the spate of articles and books by the non-Catholic, noncloistered oblate Kathleen Norris. Norris writes with a compelling sympathy for monastic life, and with an outsider’s insights into monasticism’s distinct charism. Today the very words “Benedictine” or “monastic,” when attached to a book or CD, guarantee an audience. There is a cottage industry publishing books on Benedict’s Rule as a model for everything from corporate management and ecological balance to family life. Large film and TV audiences have watched British, French, and American productions that chronicle life in monasteries, as seen by outsiders. At the same time, more...

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About the Author

Joel Rippinger, OSB, is a monk of Marmion Abbey in Aurora, Illinois.