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In Search of New Monasticism

Updated: May 9, 2020

Sister Suzanne Elizabeth, CSJB

The following article by Sister Suzanne Elizabeth, CSJB, first appeared in Community Notes Vol XVII, No. 2 in Fall 2015.

Two years ago Sr. Eleanor Francis gathered a few Oblates and Sisters ogether to read John Michael TalboIt’s book, The Universal Monk. Sister encouraged others to read the book also. Our Community has been looking into a more structured form of life for those who wish to live alongside the vowed life of the Sisters.

The Universal Monk tells the story of the founding of Little Portion Hermitage in Berryville, Arkansas. Thirty years ago the Roman Catholic singer John Michael Talbot gathered single men and women, couples and families together on his land in Arkansas. There, they built hermitages and a main building with a refectory, kitchen, library and offices. They also constructed a small chapel nearby. Their life was built around simple Gospel living, integrating solitude and community with a contemplative base and active ministry.

The Brothers and Sisters of Charity today integrate charismatic and contemplative, liturgical and spontaneous spiritualities. Their community includes those who live in their own homes and are called Domestics. These are living a similar life to that of the Monastics, practicing the prayer and meditation that will lead them to deeper understanding of Jesus, the Church and our place in the modern world. Potential members choose whichever of these forms of religious life will bring them closer to Jesus and change and renew their lives through meditative prayer in community.

The Brothers and Sisters of Charity with Sr. Barbara Jean and Sr. Suzanne Elizabeth John Michael Talbot is in the center with Viola to the right in the picture

Sr. Barbara Jean and I were invited to visit John Michael and Viola Talbot at their monastery in Arkansas, and we traveled there in mid July. We visited with the founders and their community members to share their life of worship, prayer, work and fellowship. We enjoyed walking their beautiful grounds in the high desert, landscaped and planted by a friend who lives the Domestic life near them.

All the members and others living there for longer or shorter periods of time gather daily for prayer, worship, meals, work assignments, study and instruction on the life. All take part in the work, using the gifts and talents of each, but where extra help is needed, all are called upon to pitch in. “A General Chapter is the supreme governing body of the community. The General Chapter consists of the permanent monastic and domestic members either personally or through delegates.” (Rule, Pg. 45)

Over the years the members have learned much about this lifestyle, what works and what does not. At this time there are no families residing at Little Portion Hermitage. However, this possibility is included in the Rule. One point of interest for me is the way they all gather daily for instruction on the Church’s scripture, theology, philosophy or social issues. They discuss how to live their lives as committed Christians to God’s glory and all creation.

John Michael’s book is very open and honest in what has worked for them and what has not. The Brothers and Sisters of Charity have learned from their experience and mistakes, and they offer practical advice on community building. John Michael was equally open and honest with us as we met face to face. We found this meeting to be very helpful, as we begin a new program in CSJB with ‘Alongsiders.’ May we all “be of one mind and heart on the way to God.” (St. Augustine)

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