Monks work. Some imagine monks living an idle of life of quiet and prayer, but that’s not a complete picture. Part of a monk’s life is devoted to labor. Different monasteries have different ways of supporting themselves. If you can get some fudge made at Gethsemani Abbey, you should do so because it’s delicious, and making the fudge and other things are part of the monks’ work there. The monks I visited in New Melleray Abbey in Iowa make beautiful caskets. Believe it or not, fruitcake can be really good, and the monks I used to visit in Assumption Abbey in southern Missouri make a delicious fruitcake. Making and selling these things are part of how a monastery supports itself, and monks spend several hours a day at this type of work.
Benedict says this is how it has to be. “When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks,” Benedict says in Chapter 48. He says, too, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.” Benedict knows work is a necessity for their life together, but he also knows work shouldn’t dominate their life. He advocates fixed times for work, and work does not overflow beyond these times. When the bell is rung and prayer begins, work is set aside until the next day.
We go to extremes with work: either we are workaholics, not knowing when work should stop, or we are lazy, doing little or no work. Benedict has no interest in either extreme. He knows the value of work, but he knows work shouldn’t dominate their life. Work provides income and sustenance, and it also brings joy in the completion of job done well, but he knows they are not defined by their work but by their identity as people of prayer. Maybe we can learn something from Benedict by asking, “When do I devote myself to work, and when do I know when to stop from my work to focus on things that are more important?”
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict