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Balance prayer and work

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Saint Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism.  One of his fundamental principles was to strike a balance between prayer and work (ora et labora).  This balance is essential for a monastic who sets rhythm to his or her day by establishing set time for prayer, usually around the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office).  The pattern of his/her labor is determined by these times of prayer.  An abbot or abbess is responsible for setting the monastic community’s rhythm and pattern.

A wise monk once told me that the principle of ora et labora is not the goal; it’s the means to reaching the goal.  But the means itself is so essential for the monk or nun.

Why share this thought with you today?  Because I believe it is a non-negotiable principle for every baptized person.   This Benedictine approach can teach us something important.

Of course, this will look different for every Christian.  Clergy have our demands.  Religious who spend the day teaching in a classroom have their schedules. Married couples have their daily routines.   Every person’s pattern will look different according to his or her daily needs. 

And each person – whether a cleric, religious, or layperson – will experience an evolution of this pattern as life changes. Couples eventually will stop changing diapers or chauffeuring teenagers around town. A new assignment for a religious or priest will dictate changes in daily routine.  Retirement allows new possibilities. 

While a particular vocation or change in one’s life will determine how the pattern of prayer and activity is experienced, the need for balance is a constant for every one of us.   Is this what Martha struggled with as Mary spent time with Jesus?  Was she caught up in the work without the benefit of encounter with Christ?  We can do all sorts of good works and noble deeds but without prayer, what will it eventually do to us? 

We’re not all called to monastic life but monastic life can teach us many things.  Perhaps the first thing is to claim – or reclaim – a pattern of daily prayer that works for you.  If it’s been awhile, why not begin each day with a simple Morning Offering and a Prayer of Examination and Thanksgiving before going to bed.    Maybe your schedule permits an additional experience of Mass during the week?  Perhaps a family’s Grace Before Meal might be reintroduced as everyone frantically gathers for Tuesday’s supper?  Can a fifteen-minute afternoon break accommodate a rosary or reflection with scripture?   Many Catholic apps are available for the busy Catholic.  Check out some popular ones at Bottom line?  Harmony among the demands of discipleship and daily tasks.

Prayerfully yours,

Fr. Gurnick


In the Eucharist, the boundlessness of the Father’s love “springs up within us a lively response” that causes us to “begin to love” (Dominicae Cenae, no. 5). Contemplating Christ’s sacrifice for the world in need, we are compelled to follow his example. Drawn “into the very dynamic of his self-giving” we are moved to self-giving action in solidarity with the members of our human family who face injustice (Deus Caritas Est, no. 13). St. John Chrysostom’s words in the fourth century become real for us as we reflect on Matthew 25:31-46: Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked.