A friend sent me this link to a fascinating story about a small group of Vietnamese Trappist monks who have made themselves a home in the California desert:
Long before dawn in the remote desert south of Barstow, the only light for miles around is a faint glow from a triple-wide trailer.
Inside, several monks chant in Vietnamese. Then there is silence.
The trailer is home to the first cloistered Catholic monastery in the Inland area. The white-robed monks pray and chant together seven times a day and silently meditate twice. Here in Lucerne Valley, off a dirt road and at the foot of barren mountains, there is little to disturb them.
San Bernardino Diocese Bishop Gerald Barnes celebrated the opening of St. Joseph Monastery on Aug. 17, but for now, the two cream-colored trailers, a water pump and solar panels are all that sit on the 80-acre site.
The monks hope to one day erect permanent buildings to house a chapel, retreat center and living quarters.
St. Joseph is the second U.S. outpost of a Vietnamese congregation of Cistercian-order monks, who seclude themselves in monasteries to devote their lives to contemplation. The other opened in June near Sacramento.
There are nearly 7,000 Cistercian monks and nuns worldwide. Most sites are open to the Catholic faithful for retreats, as St. Joseph’s visitors trailer will be in a few months.
The monks and nuns in Cistercian monasteries typically spend little time outside them, except for shopping for groceries and other necessities, and for special events such as ordinations.
Although the number of monks and nuns in U.S. monasteries has declined over the past few decades, experts say the drop has not been as steep as the fall in nonmonastic priests and nuns.
Proportionately more people choose a monastic life than before as a reaction to secularism and an increasingly fast-paced U.S. lifestyle, said Sister Patricia Wittberg, a professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
There are about 200 Catholic monasteries in the United States, but there is no reliable count of how many people live inside them.
Like the parish priests who minister to their congregants and the nuns who serve the poor and sick, Cistercians and their devotion to intensely contemplative lives form a vital part of the Catholic church, said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
“It’s a special vocation,” Rausch said. “The church needs people who energize it from within with their prayer.”
Continue at the link for more.
Photo: by Kurt Miller/The Press-Enterprise