Since we posted our special event schedule we have received various questions about the Monastic Immersion Weekends. Here’s some answers to the most frequently asked questions:
Are Monastic Immersion Weekends for men who want to be monks?
Yes and no. These weekends are primarily for laypeople who want to experience monastic life but don’t intend to enter a monastery. This doesn’t rule out someone finding they like it and getting more serious about the potential, (and in fact several MIW participants have done just that) but at their core these weekends are for average, everyday people who want to spend 48 hours living the monastic lifestyle. And, remember we have an MIW for women in April and men in September.
How long is the weekend? When do I arrive and leave?
The MIWs all run from Friday afternoon (we ask that you arrive between 3pm and 5pm to attend Vespers at 5:30) through Sunday lunch. Upon arrival members of the Monastic Immersion Weekend ‘class’ find their rooms by checking the bulletin board in the Retreat House. The full weekend (all MIW participants are required to attend the full weekend and not arrive late or leave early) turns out to be about 48 hours in total. The final lunch marks the end of the retreat and several of the monks come down from the monastery to see us off.
How do I know what to do?
In the weeks preceding the weekend you will receive emails that include all the information you need to make your weekend fruitful and spiritual including a detailed schedule, some dos and don’ts for things like what to bring and even a suggested reading list to acquaint yourself with Trappist life and the Rule of St. Benedict. On the first night you also have an orientation with the Companion/Retreat Director and at various times he checks in to see if there are any questions. And, of course the class gets direction during the weekend on schedule, location etc.
Each MIW registrant also receives two other documents in advance of the weekend: Notes on Taking Retreat, which provides some guidance and advice on making the most of your retreat, and What’s Going on Up There a summary of what happens in church during the praying of the Divine Office. This gives you a head start on figuring out what you will have to do as a ‘member’ of the community for the weekend.
Just how quickly do we get into the activities of the weekend?
On the first night (Friday) we try not to go too fast so no one is intimidated . The group sits in the guest pews for both Vespers and Compline. That way they get to see the flow of the Office and watch the monks before being asked to sit in choir and chant. Immediately after Compline though, the MIW class receives their MIW cross (on the high altar, blessed by the Abbot) and has their first conference/q+a with the Abbot. By then we are fully into the weekend.
I’m scared because I can’t carry a tune…how am I ever going to chant without embarrassing myself?
Of all the questions we get this one tops the list. First of all chant is easier than it sounds like it should be. Second, on the first night we have Choir Practice with the monastic cantor, Fr. James, and he is very good at making us feel comfortable and showing us the simplicity of following the notes in chant. And third, we encourage the MIW participants to chant quietly anyway. If you aren’t perfect and you are loud then we will all know it. If you aren’t perfect and you are soft, nobody will know the difference.
We also ask that the class sit in the Guest Pews for the first two offices. This way you will get a feel for the rhythm of the prayer and chant and quickly see the big difference is pace. Meaning prayer in the monastery is much slower than you are used to in your parish church. This slowness also helps us not hit a high C when the choir is singing a low F (and I don’t even know if those are real notes…if I can chant you can chant).
What is a conference with a monk?
A conference in the monastery is an informational/educational session. Some are for those in formation and the Abbot does a conference called a Chapter Talk every Sunday after mass. Think of them as a class in college.
For our MIW we have conferences from a varied ‘faculty’ of monks and nuns. We have had Sister Kathy from our Trappistine community in Crozet, Fr. Maurice (who studied with Merton), Fr. Paschal (who has been a monk for well over 50 years), Fr. James (the Retreat House director and cantor in choir) and Br. Efrain, (the formation director). All conferences combine some teaching with questions and answers and are held in various places including some in the Chapter Room an area of the monastery usually reserved only for monks.
Our last conference is with the companion/Retreat Director and entitled St. Benedict for the Rest of Us. In this conference we explore monastic principles and practices that can be useful to us who are not called to the cloister. We explore simplicity of life, silence, a sense of place, hospitality etc. all of which are applicable inside and outside the monastery
Why does this retreat cost $100 more than a normal weekend in the Retreat House?
The Monastic Immersion Weekend offers those attending much more attention from the monks and provides unequaled access to choir and conferences with monks. But that isn’t the reason. In fact the monks would not be happy if we charged more for time with them. Rather it is because of the extra supplies, materials, clothing and reading material provided to the MIW participants. Besides a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict, a small breviary (so you can continue to pray after you leave), a book on Benedictine life, participants receive a commemorative t-shirt (what would a fun weekend be with out a t-shirt?) and more importantly a Choir Shirt that provides uniformity of dress in choir and a very nice ‘hoodie’ to take home. And finally in one of the most beautiful parts of the weekend, each person receives an MIW Crucifix, blessed by the Abbot and presented by him on the first night on the high altar. As with all Benedictine life, we are required to ‘pay for ourselves’ so the extra fees cover our costs for the weekend.
If I have further questions?
Call the Companion Office at 540-955-4604 if you wish to chat or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.