by Jen O'Neill
The traditional notion of monastic life evokes the idea of prayer and contemplation within a structured community of like-minded believers, however a new brand of monasticism, similarly characterized by intentional and contemplative living, has been born. “Neomonasticism,” or “New Monasticism,” is a gathering movement of young people promoting messages of simplicity and service while engaging society’s marginalized and underprivileged members.
During the desperate times of A.D. 250, St. Paul of Thebes became “the first hermit in church history” when he sought spiritual refuge in a cave to avoid persecution. The iconic St. Anthony was the founder of Western monasticism and St. Benedict established the Rule for the order. By the 16th century, monastic life earned many critics, including a former monastic Martin Luther, who declared monks were, “lice placed by the devil on God Almighty’s fur coat.”
Blending religious worship, art and community in a transient community, Seattle’s Monkfish Abbey serves its community in a “buffet style” form of worship, celebrating many world religions, including Judaism, Buddhism and of course, Christianity. Philadelphia’s The Simple Way Community was modeled after the early church, and its six members dedicate themselves to working with their poor neighbors. The Catholic Worker Movement, which has communities across the country, is a “simple lifestyle” community, with members who serve the poor, resist war and strive for social justice.
Although they do not label themselves as “New Monastic communities,” some groups that were founded long before the official birth of the New Monastic movement strive for a similar way of life—one emphasizing simplicity, service and communal living. “Volunteer communities” such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Mercy Volunteers and Lasallian Volunteers plant recent college graduates into integrated community settings—sometimes with priests, nuns and brothers—who also live in simplicity and service.