Love of God drives an austere existence for monks

To conquer lust, Saint Benedict threw himself into a briar patch, naked.

At least, that's the story. This monkish mentality of extreme self-denial is pretty far from most college students' lines of thought. But we at Geneseo have a monastery five miles away - the Abbey of the Genesee. Is it more than just robes and briar patches? One of the monks, Brother Anthony Weber, was happy to tell all.

The rundown: breakfast is at 2:25 a.m., bread, orange juice and coffee, eaten in silence. Next is the "vigil" period, which the monks spend in prayer, meditation and spiritual study. Again, silence.

At 6 a.m. the day's services begin. The brothers meet seven times a day to pray and chant Psalms (Christian texts). They also come together for lunch, the largest meal of the day. A spiritual book is read aloud while the brothers eat. Between these times, the monks work. Each monastery has its own industry, to exist without assistance. The Abbey of the Genesee bakes Monks' Bread, found in supermarkets surrounding Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester.

Next, the monks have a light and silent supper. After the last prayer, around 7 p.m., the brothers retire. They follow this schedule every day, with some variations on Sundays and holidays.

The routine follows The Rule of Saint Benedict, a sixth century monastic guidebook (and Humanities I standard). The schedule satisfies five solemn vows brothers take before final acceptance into the abbey.

1)Vow of Obedience: Live the Christian life according to The Rule, the abbot (leader of the abbey) and the constitution of the monastic order.

2)Vow of Poverty: Have no private property, not even your own clothes.

3)Vow of Chastity: Live a celibate life.

4)Vow of Stability: Stay with the community for life. It is common for brothers to go years without leaving the borders of the abbey.

5)Vow of Conversion of Life: Commit to a lifetime of spiritual growth and progress. There is always an opportunity for progress.

And so, the biggest question is raised: Why? Brother Anthony joined the Abbey of the Genesee when he was 18. He is now 71. Brother Anthony said he stays for the love of God. He credits each act of self-denial to strength from God's love and the support of his brothers.

"Take God out of the picture, [and the monastic life] falls apart … it's absolutely absurd," he said. For him, it is a personal call of vocation. His purpose is to focus on a deeper, truer knowledge of God. That knowledge, that connection to God, is what he gets from the abbey and what keeps him there.

This life also gives Brother Anthony a deep sense of peace and an obvious joy. "A sad saint is no saint," he said with a quiet smile. He is also aware that life at the abbey goes against the grain of American culture.

Through newspapers and the Internet the monks are informed about current events so they can pray effectively. But some of what they see in the media disturbs them. Brother Anthony urges others to look critically at the culture and ask, "Is it humanizing?"

Readers who would like to learn more about the Abbey of the Genesee should visit geneseeabbey.org.