A Monastic Kind of Life
How Catholic religious communities are trying to attract young people again.
In 1999, a full 25 years after leaving for France, six of the original University of Kansas students, along with seven fellow monks, returned to America to start Clear Creek, establishing the first foundation for men of the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes in America. On a 1,200-acre tract of land once owned by an infamous moonshiner, the Clear Creek monks use the old Latin rites both for Mass and the daily offices. Indeed, a return to traditional practices is a common element among those religious orders experiencing renewal. Many young nuns, for example, choose to wear a traditional habit even when their older religious sisters choose modest secular fashions.
Scores of families have purchased land nearby to raise their families in the shadow of the monastery, where they often join the monks in their liturgical celebrations. These families tend to be the crunchiest of the Crunchy Cons, into home schooling, the "local foods, local markets" movement, and sustainable farming. This growing community is one of the surest signs of Clear Creek's importance. This follows the classic spiritual pattern: Saints traipse off into the wilderness, and the world eventually follows, unbidden, as with the Cistercians, who turned the swamps and fens of Europe into arable land and saw communities spring up around them.
The emergence of Clear Creek and other growing monastic communities suggests there will always be young people who ask whether their devotion to God should take precedence over their own personal ambitions and even the natural desire for a family. (The A&E special God or the Girlwas an insightful documentary about this.) Today's young people, who have grown up in a highly commercialized and manipulated landscape, are particularly eager to connect with a more authentic way of living. Far from being pressured into pursuing religious vocations, they find their families often protest, feeling they are losing their children to a life that's too isolated.
But after the first heady period of romance comes a long and difficult obedience, as every monk or nun eventually recognizes. Fidelity can result in humility, though, which is the deepest source of the beauty to be seen at Clear Creek and other monastic foundations. From its rich liturgical rites to the pastoral details of its life as a working farm, as the monks raise sheep, make furniture, tend their orchard, and care for a huge vegetable garden, Clear Creek is what a monastery is meant to be—a sign of paradise.
Father Anderson says, "We were only a bunch of bums, but by becoming nothing, you can be a part of something great."