God has given each religious order a way of life, which is exemplified in its founder and specified in its documents and tradition. This way of life is called the religious order's "charism." The ultimate point of a charism is to unite each member of the religious order to Christ, by making him more Christ-like.
What is the charism of the Benedictine order? This is hard to summarize. So much could be said about it, given its over 1500 year old history. But to provide a brief overview, St. Procopius Abbey uses three words -- namely, Prayer, Work, and Stability -- which the following sections discuss.
The Benedictine life is a life centered on prayer -- which means that it is a life marked by the search for God. Throughout the centuries, the Benedictine monastic way of life has testified to the need to put God first. Or as some of our documents put it, our charism witnesses to the primacy of God.
The importance of prayer is seen in our commitment to the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, and to the Eucharist. St. Benedict calls the Divine Office the "work of God" and he says that nothing is to be preferred to it (Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 43). Thus, the monks gather four or five times a day to pray the Divine Office or the Mass as a community.
Also, the monks pray privately, especially with Scripture. Each day a monk devotes at least half an hour to praying lectio divina, which is the prayerful reading of and meditation upon a biblical passage. In this way, the mind and heart are nourished and fortified by God's word.
“Drawing therefore upon the authentic sources of Christian spirituality, members of religious communities should resolutely cultivate both the spirit and
practice of prayer.”
(Perfectae Caritatis 6, from the Second Vatican Council)
Monks work as well as pray -- thus the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). Being dedicated to prayer and doing your work, and carrying out whatever else that is needed -- this requires balance. Living a balanced life is something Benedictines strive for.
There are many tasks to be done in the monastery. Because St. Procopius Abbey founded and sponsors two schools, Benet Academy and Benedictine University, there is work to be done as teachers, in campus ministry, and in other areas of education. Having monks work in the schools strengthens the Benedictine character of the schools.
There is also work to be done within the monastery building. Monks thus do administrative work, take care of guests, clean, do sacristy work, and so on. Also, some monks are priests, and therefore they help administer the sacraments in local parishes, not to mention in our schools. People have different talents and abilities, and the aim is to use them to advance the work of the monastery and its mission, "that in all things God may be glorified" (Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 57, from 1Pet 4:11).
“When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks”
(Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 4, v. 73).
Stability is a unique Benedictine vow. It is the vow to belong to the same monastery for one's whole life. Thus, when monks of St. Procopius Abbey take their vows, they commit themselves to be monks of St. Procopius Abbey in particular, not to the Benedictine order in general so as to belong to one monastery at one time and to another monastery at another time.
The vow of stability makes community very important for Benedictines. There in the monastery is the group of men with which one will live, share, pray, work, rejoice, and at times struggle. One will not be transferred to another monastic community (although for special reasons, such as studies, one might live for a time in another place), but instead, the monastery is home and a special place.
It is the place where God gives the monks the graces to work out their salvation. It is where they are to work on the practice of virtue and on the diminishment of vices (see Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 4), and to help each other, so that "Christ may bring us all together to eternal life" (Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 72).
“The workshop in which we perform all these [good] works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community”
(Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 4, v. 73).