Part of the genius of the Rule of St Benedict, which quickly surpassed other, earlier rules in the western Church to become the pre-eminent monastic rule [to head off any potential pedants at the pass, the Rule of St Augustine is not, strictly speaking, monastic, nor is it as comprehensive as St Benedict’s], is that it is moderate and balanced. It does not depict monastic life as a spiritual utopia, nor monks as Christian supermen. St Benedict knows well the humanity of monks, their first fervour and later laxity, their aptness to cut corners if even from the best of motives, their capacity to annoy each other and their tendency to value more highly what they want to what they need. He imposes a healthy discipline and allows for it to be modified, though this perhaps is also its weakness: it has ever after been modified in the name of holy pragmatism. He places a high value on a demanding formation that begins with strictness in order to make the life sweeter to live in the long term (and indulgence of novices’ preferences and weaknesses has been a perpetual source of trouble for monasteries, not least today when we are so desperate not to lose our few candidates whatever their faults).
Essential to the Rule is its sane and reasonable balancing of the spiritual with the material, of worship with work. His monks were not to fall victim to the temptation to a gilded indolence that masquerades as recollection and otherworldliness. Monasteries are very much of this world, and there is the need for the brethren to work to keep their home going, their hearts pure and their souls free from the poison of indolence.
The Benedictine monastic life has lasted more than a millennium because it addresses a human yearning that never fades. The danger today is in monastic tourism, and a commercialised monasticism-lite that becomes an industry rather than what it truly is, a vocation apart from the world, for the sake of the world.
Yet every now and then, in some corner or other of the world, someone gets the monastic “it” and marries some of it to an ostensibly secular enterprise with remarkable fruitfulness. Such is the case in my hometown of Sydney. There, a Catholic businessman, Walter Bachmann, has brought a little of the monastic horarium to his factory. What began as a private recitation of the rosary in his office has organically developed into an hour of Eucharistic adoration every work day, with Mass on Fridays, all in a chapel in the factory, erected with the permission of the local bishop.
One must be wary of simplistic conclusions of cause and effect, but it is remarkable that his factory, BAC Systems, which makes modular storage equipment, has flourished in a competitive market, with government and private customers internationally. Mr Bachman feels that his little dose of monastic life is integral to BAC’s success:
“I think it’s a terrific concept, the monastic concept,’’ Mr Bachmann said.
“Instead of having a full monastery we have a little monastic break here every day.”…
“It has transformed the staff members; it’s beautiful even for the people who don’t come,’’ Mr Bachmann said.
He said the workplace was more harmonious and consequently co-workers got on better with each other.
Moreover, Mr Bachmann sees that innovation is not necessarily the quest for something stunningly new:
“If you don’t innovate you are going to die off today,’’ Mr Bachmann said about the secret to the company’s success in a tough industry.
“And you need to be into a niche market.”
It seems his methods as well as his market are niche. He is happy, without drifting into excess, of making it clear on its website exactly what sort of workplace BAC Systems runs:
The BAC Systems workplace is unique in the fact that it has its own private chapel on site. All workers are given the opportunity to participate in the daily monastic hour, instigated with approval of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta under the spiritual direction of Fr. Christopher Sharah FSF. In this way all employees are afforded the opportunity to integrate work with prayer, should they so choose.
It rather proves that the marriage of faith and work in the world is possible, very possible. Everyone’s a winner.
And it all started from a man praying the rosary in his office. The power of witness; the power of one.