Editor’s Note: It is our pleasure to share with readers this second of a series of posts chronicling the conversion and calling of Fr. Bonfice Hicks, OSB, one of our Avila Summit Speakers this past summer, and his explanation and exploration of Benedictine spirituality. Find part I here and part II here.
In the last articles, I described the steps to becoming Catholic and discerning my call to Saint Vincent Archabbey, but I have revealed little about the Benedictine charism or why I believe that this is the charism I was called to embody and live out for the rest of my life. Although it sounds trite, I can say that I became a Benedictine at Saint Vincent Archabbey because I believe God called me to that. I did not become a Benedictine because we have a college or a seminary or a large community or regular liturgical prayer or a beautiful Basilica. I had some organic, human connections that brought me to the community and I believe that in prayer God called me to join that community and give my life to Him there.
As a novice, I could not have described in detail what drew me to the Benedictine community at Saint Vincent Archabbey, other than prayer and the grace of God. After twenty years in the community, however, I can now see more clearly why God called me here. The initial desire that rose up in my heart is indeed the one that was able to unfold at Saint Vincent in the most beautiful way, namely “to share the gift of prayer.” Although I had translated that into “evangelization” and I have found many opportunities to evangelize, ultimately my desire was always to share the gift of prayer. I believe that was also God’s desire for me and that is why He brought me to Saint Vincent Archabbey. As a Benedictine monk in a very large and active monastery, I have had abundant opportunities to learn prayer and share prayer, especially through teaching and spiritual direction.
The Benedictine life is oriented towards learning to pray. St. Benedict gives the main criterion for monastic life: “The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God…” (RB 58:7) Fundamentally, to learn to pray is to truly seek God. The monk develops a living, personal relationship with our God who is Himself personal, in fact, tri-Personal. That relationship, which is the basis for everything else, stretches across time into every moment of the monk’s life. This constant loving awareness of the presence of God could be seen as the principal theme of the Rule of Saint Benedict: “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere…” (RB 19:1). The rest of the rule arranges the life of the monk to become more responsive to God’s presence in everything he does.
In other words, the monk learns how to do everything in relationship with God. He learns how to turn his life into constant prayer. That begins with concrete prayer times as Saint Benedict makes clear in the next verse of the Rule, “But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office” (RB 19:2). The divine office (the liturgy of the hours) is the heartbeat of every monastery. Additionally, Saint Benedict prescribed long periods of time (up to four hours a day, as it is still practiced in more contemplative monasteries) to the practice of prayerful reading called “Lectio Divina.” The liturgy, Lectio Divina, and the monastic culture of scheduled activities bracketed by prayer are the primary means for growing in prayer.
Additionally, there is a special apostolic emphasis on hospitality. This comes from the unique Benedictine vow of stability. Stability leads to the sanctification of a place and the inevitable draw for guests to experience that holy place and its praying monastic community. Saint Benedict comments in the Rule that monasteries are never without guests (RB 53:16). Furthermore, the guests at monasteries are generally those who want to share in the grace of the monastery and so we call them retreatants. The natural ministry to retreatants is teaching them to pray as a group through retreat conferences and individually through spiritual direction.
For these reasons, teaching prayer became part and parcel of my life at Saint Vincent Archabbey. As my monastic life developed, this ministry extended beyond the walls of Saint Vincent, and I began to offer retreats and spiritual direction in more diverse places and for a wide variety of people. The most recent development in my monastic journey has been to write books on spiritual direction and personal prayer and to offer spiritual direction formation for a wide range of people through our Seminary’s Institute for Ministry Formation.
I did not understand everything that God was calling me to when He drew me, through prayer, to the Benedictine monastery of Saint Vincent Archabbey, but what I have discovered and lived out has been more fulfilling than I ever dreamed possible. I am deeply grateful for my Benedictine vocation.