Abbot Jeremy Driscoll
Abbot Jeremy Driscoll
" Mount Angel Abbey is a Benedictine monastic community founded in 1882. Located on a hill just above the town of Mount Angel, the abbey operates Mount Angel Seminary, founded in 1889, and maintains an active retreat center, library, and bookstore. Learn more at mountangelabbey.org. "
SAINT BENEDICT — I often think of the first Benedictine monks who arrived in the middle of the Willamette Valley in the late 19th century. I wonder what they thought of this land, so similar and yet so different from their monastic home in Engelberg, Switzerland. They traveled from a thriving monastery already situated for hundreds of years high in the Alps. The monks had just finished the last leg of a long journey to the United States, crossing thousands of miles of plains and mountain ranges before arriving in the mid-Willamette Valley.

The Cascades aren’t the Alps, yet perhaps looking up from the Willamette Valley floor and viewing the snowy tops of Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and our other volcanic peaks provided a degree of comfort and eased the homesickness they felt. When they ascended the hill that is now the site of Mount Angel Abbey, established in 1882, I imagine they breathed a collective sigh of relief. They had arrived at their new monastic home.

Mount Angel has been home ever since for the monks who live here, providing welcome and respite to all who come for visits, casual and planned. We saw a decrease in large groups visiting Mount Angel during the pandemic. At the same time, the number of individuals who came for retreat and day visits increased. We also successfully reached out to our friends through video and live-stream programs and liturgies. But while we managed to feel a connection using online media, we also missed the presence, conversation, and laughter that best comes from in-person encounters.

Community life lived together, elbow to elbow, day-in and day-out, is central to our life as Benedictine monks. In many places the Rule of St. Benedict reminds us that we either go to God together or we don’t go. But that “together” isn’t just referring to us monks living in the monastery cloister. Monasteries have always been central to the people living on the farms and in the towns around them, sharing liturgy, spirituality, moments of leisure, and helping one another in times of hardship and plenty.

That’s why we are grateful to again welcome all who come to Mount Angel to enjoy the beautiful hilltop views and take time to enjoy the peace and quiet of the place. Visitors walk the grounds, linger in the bookstore, museum, or library, and join us for Mass or the hours of the Divine Office in the abbey church.

A place of arrival

People who come to Mount Angel often tell us that they “feel something” as they come up Abbey Drive; there is a sense of having arrived. With the majestic trees, buildings and pathways, and several viewpoints looking out across the valley floor, the atmosphere invites visitors to stay awhile and soak it in.

But there is something else at work at Mount Angel. That is, a community of monks lives here. I live here with close to 50 fellow Benedictine monks. Those of us who have made our vows have promised to dwell in this place with one another, obedient to the Rule of St. Benedict, for our entire lives. That does something to us that is good and beautiful. That “something” spills out from our cloistered home and is available for all to share and benefit from.

In my efforts these past couple of years to speak about this “something” to those who could not come and experience it in person, I have begun to describe our Benedictine charism at Mount Angel as providing us with seven rich ways by which we live. In that living, we become more fully Christian and more fully human. As a community, we realize that a person doesn’t need to be a monk to live these ways. Anyone can. You can.

These ways flow from the Rule of St. Benedict. They are rich ways of prayer, life together, deep reading, hospitality, promoting arts and culture, and caring for the land and environment. But of all the rich ways the Eucharist, celebrated daily, is the most important, and it is the center of life here at Mount Angel. As we come out of the pandemic, we are more conscious than ever of how vital it is for us as Catholics to celebrate Eucharist together. During the early pandemic lockdowns, we monks could continue to celebrate the Eucharist together each day, and we remained painfully aware that hardly any other Catholics were able to do that. We kept you in our hearts and prayers during that time. We also began to livestream our liturgies to share them with all who tuned in.

A place of communion

Another rich way I want to mention is that of life together. Community life is a primary component of St. Benedict’s Rule. Sometimes people think that monks are off on their own, isolated from the world around them, choosing the ease of private meditation and solitude. St. Benedict’s Rule is specific, however, about how monks should live together with patience, charity, and humble service to one another. Those aren’t monastic specialties. Community is what Christians must live because communion with God and with one another in God is Christ’s work in us and his gift to us.

After two years of restrictions and enforced separation, it would seem natural for us all to get together in kindness, patience, and tolerance, whether as a family, in the workspace, or as a global community. Unfortunately, such does not seem to be the case everywhere. It seems we need to practice our skills of living well together more than ever, centered in Christ. We monks of Mount Angel are doing that, and we try as a monastic community to support you in your own Christian life.

Along with this article, there is information about two events coming up at Mount Angel you might consider joining us for. There is our Saint Benedict Festival on July 9. And the 51st Abbey Bach Festival is July 27, 28, and 29. Both promise to be well attended, and I hope you can come for one or the other or both. (More information at left.)

Whenever you are in the mid-Willamette Valley, just above the lovely town of Mount Angel, come up Abbey Drive and spend some time in this sacred, quiet space. Allow yourself to “feel something,” to welcome Christ knocking at the door of your heart.



LEARN MORE

For more information about the seven rich ways of living the Benedictine charism, see the video “Life Lived Abundantly,” produced by the monks of Mount Angel Abbey. mountangelabbey.org/join-us/video