American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 28, Number 1, February 1998


Dan Ward's Column

The Future of Monasticism

(Editor's Note: This column is the conclusion to Dan Ward's column in the last American Monastic Newsletter entitled "The Past and the Future of Monastic Life.")

The future holds much for Benedictine monastics. There is no crystal ball to say how it will happen. Each monastic and each monastic community, based on history, experience and hope, needs to reflect on the future. The following are some things which could be considered in this reflection.

There are a number of choices which can be made about the future. The future of monasticism could lie with those monastics willing to contemplate a new vision, to make a commitment to a shared vision and a commitment to one another. These are the people willing to be transformed or as the Rule says, "ready to give up your own will" (Prol 3). They are willing to die to their present self-identification with the present level of monastic life, its forms and institutions. They are the ones who are willing to move beyond surface-structural changes to changes of the heart.

The future also could lie with those who become preoccupied with the past, who concentrate on work, who seek good feelings and friendly understanding as the main criteria for community living.

The future also could lie with those who see no need for change, who do not understand what is happening and so they will not let the rest of the community change.

The future also could lie with those monastics who wish to return to what transpersonal psychology calls the "pre-law state." The monastery continues or begins to attract mainly persons "who are emotionally dependent" and seek a "family" to which to belong, an authority figure to obey and an ideology in which to believe. The future is limited by assigned roles within the monastery and by an attitude that laws and structure are more important than persons.

The future will have smaller communities. It will be more and more necessary for these smaller communities to interact. First, they need each other to continue the dialogue and the dynamism. Without interchange, life can become dull and rigid. Second, the smaller communities will need to share with each other the talents of their members. In a sense, the Scripture scholar, the accountant, the musician, the artist will be a "member" of a number of monasteries. Smallness can be good. Isolation, however, is death.

The future will have a diversity of monastic communities, some of which are emerging now. The old lines and divisions of congregations/federations, while not dissolving, will have to be open to diversity and mutual support. One of the things Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen tried to bring awareness of during his visit to the United States shortly before his death was the great diversity within the Benedictine monastic family. No one monastery can claim to be living the most authentic form of monastic life.

The future hold difficulties for those monasteries tied to and identified with institutions. Sponsored institutions eventually take on their own lives and identities and in many instances begin to become the identifying mark of the monastery. However, in the future a monastery with a sponsored institution will have to claim its own life and identity, find its own space, place, and allow for the possibility of a new vision, and provide work opportunities for new monastics who may not be attracted to the institution.

There is much hope for the future of Benedictine monasticism, maybe not hope for every monastery or every congregation/federation, but an overall hope. Throughout much of the history of the world religions, monasticism has been alive, has developed, has endured. It has been an ever- present way of life. If the history of the world religions demonstrates anything, it demonstrates that the monastic way of life will continue. The challenge for contemporary monastics and monasteries is to continue to be part o this ever-constant yet ever-new way of life.

Dan J. Ward
Monk of Saint John's Abbey

(This article is based on a talk given at the Monastic Institute at St. John's Abbey and University, July 1996.)

Contents February 1998

OSB Index | ABA | AMN


ABA. Newsletter (February 1998) / © Copyright 1997-2009 by American Benedictine Academy / Managing Editor: Renee Branigan OSB, Box 364, Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, ND 58652 / HTML version: Tom Gillespie OSB /