In a move unfathomable to many young men, in a few weeks Brother Bede will commit his life to God — becoming the first at his rural Tasmanian monastery to become a fully fledged monk.
Twenty-eight-year-old Brother Bede was one of the first to join the Notre Dame Priory when the Benedictine monastic community was established on an old farming property at Colebrook, 53 kilometres north of Hobart, almost four years ago.
He has now completed what would be akin to an apprenticeship and next year will make his solemn profession — vowing to spend the rest of his life as a monk in the service of God.
He knows many can only see what he has given up — particularly when he is still so young.
But he calls it a supernatural calling, adding he originally thought he would be a priest out in the community until he was in Europe as part of his study of languages at university.
“I walked into this monastery and I think it was very early morning … and there was just this perfect order and peace of these monks chanting and it was a bit of a light bulb moment — it was ‘ah, this is what I’ve been looking for’,” he said.
“It’s a supernatural calling — it goes beyond living a life that the world considers normal — so going out and seeing friends and going to the cinema.
“They’re all good things, but life is not about those things — it’s about something more than that.
“It’s about ultimately the hereafter, our eternal salvation and monastic life is a more sure path to salvation but even while living that life you’re living a life of union with God even now, a sort of foretaste of heaven.
“I suppose a man comes to the monastery because he cares more about being with God than going to the cinema or spending time doing whatever he wants.
“I think we waste a lot of time and we only have so much time — life’s short.”
What drives a young man to turn his back on mainstream life and become a monk?
He went to a public high school in South Australia and then onto university — none of his friends there were particularly religious.
But his home life was.
“Catholic parents; grew up in a household where the faith was very important. We went to Mass every Sunday as a family and weekday Mass sometimes, particularly when I was smaller with my mother, we prayed the Rosary as a family frequently,” he said.
“Our house was … well, you’d walk in and you’d know you were in a Catholic home with lots of holy pictures everywhere,” Brother Bede laughed.
His parents are supportive, even proud of his decision, but he admits not everybody in his circle of family and friends fully understands.
Structure, prayer, and flow
The head of the Priory, Father Pius said he faced a similar reaction of people not understanding why a young man would become a monk.
“In a way you almost have to be called to fully understand it,” he said.
The monks live separated from the community.
Their day starts at 4am (and earlier on a Sunday) with the time between the eight daily prayer sessions spent working.
“It probably can be quite confronting to somebody who’s not had a lot of structure before coming to the monastery, but you ease into it. It’s not like from the first day you arrive you’re keeping the schedule perfectly … even after four years you’re not always keeping the schedule perfectly,” he laughed.
We get up early but we go to bed early too — you’re up at 4am but you’re in bed by 8.30pm.
“It takes a while to get into the routine though, I certainly will grant that.
“It’s not like sitting in an office all afternoon where you’ve gone out for your lunch and from 1pm to 5pm you’re just in front of the computer. We’re constantly going to and from prayer and sort of spiritually re-charging for the work we have to do. The days just sort of flow.”
There are things he misses about the world outside.
“You don’t miss television, you don’t miss the radio, or I don’t, or miss going to the cinema — it’s more having that cup of tea with your mum!” Brother Bede said.
“It’s not lonely but it’s certainly a very different pace of life.”
The Notre Dame Priory is just one of the religious communities that have set up in Tasmania in recent years.
Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous said far from being a return to a more old-fashioned way of religious life, the communities were a way forward.
“I think in the present world we need these islands, these little oases of prayer, these little groups of people who are deeply committed to living the Christian life, to be examples, to be inspirations,” he said.
The Priory is home to six monks now but accommodation is being built for more .and there’s plans to build a grander more European style monastery.
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