Sophomore Jack Duffy spent time in a Lutheran monastery to draw nearer to God. Jack Duffy | Courtesy

Sophomore Jack Duffy withdrew from classes a few weeks into the Fall 2017 semester.

When Duffy noticed insuf­fi­ciencies in his faith and with the pri­or­ities of the Lutheran Church, he turned to a place where he could quietly rest and con­tem­plate.

“I knew my rela­tionship with Christ was not where it should’ve been — I mean, it never is — but I really needed a place where I could focus on fos­tering a direct con­nection with God, away from other dis­trac­tions like school and friend­ships,” Duffy said.

So he spent the rest of his semester at Saint Augustine’s House, a Lutheran monastery in Oxford, Michigan, addressing his the­o­logical con­cerns, dis­con­necting from the chaos of modernity, and reori­enting his life toward prayer, study, and a rela­tionship with Jesus Christ.

While his time at the monastery served pur­poses sep­arate from college, Duffy said his time there has improved life at Hillsdale, espe­cially through ded­i­cation to prayer. His favorite prayer from Saint Augustine’s House is Com­pline, the evening prayer.

“It involves a con­fession to God, and if you’re with people, a con­fession to your brothers and sisters, an ancient hymn, a Gre­gorian chant, readings from Psalms and the New Tes­tament, and it ends with the Lord’s prayer.”

After the Lord’s prayer, Com­pline con­cludes with Duffy’s favorite line, “The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last.”

At the monastery, the monks pray seven times a day because of the Psalms 119:164, which reads, “Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judg­ments.”

The Lutheran Monastery models its structure on the Bene­dictine monks. They begin their first prayer, the Office of Vigils at 5:10 a.m., then there’s Lauds at 6, Terce at 8:15, and the Eucharist at 8:30. In between prayers, the monks chat around meals and coffee.

Duffy said after morning mass, he and the monks would change from their black vest­ments into plain clothing and begin the day’s work. Then it’s back into vest­ments for more prayers: There’s Sext at 12 p.m., None at 2:30, Vespers at 6:00, and Com­pline at 8:30.

Duffy said the monastery’s ded­i­cation to prayer will stay with him, adding that not everyone can live a monastic life, but every Christian can have a ded­i­cated prayer life.

On top of having seven prayers a day, Duffy studied Origen Adamantius’ “On Prayer.” Origen, a third century Christian scholar, wrote about the position, place, and attitude required for prayer — qual­ities that Duffy doesn’t think Chris­tians con­sider enough.

“When you’re adoring and thanking God, you lift your hands to heaven and praise him,” Duffy said. “When you’re con­fessing and sup­pli­cating, you pros­trate yourself, laying your head and hands on the floor.”

Con­ver­sa­tions with Father John Cochran, the prior at Saint Augustine’s Monastery, taught him just as much, if not more, than his private study, he said.

“Father John asked me how I prayed: ‘Is it a con­ver­sation, Jack?’ ‘No, it isn’t really. I just kind of blather to God.’ He said silence is very important in prayer — lis­tening. What I think he meant is silence of the soul, being silent and letting God speak, and it may not be a voice in your head. It may be what you’re reading in Scripture or what someone else is reading while you’re lis­tening in mass.”

Saint Augustine’s House is the only Bene­dictine Lutheran monastery in the United States. There are two other Bene­dictine Lutheran monas­teries in the world, one of which — the Ӧstanbäck Monastery in Sala, Sweden — is the sister com­munity of Saint Augustine’s House. The other is the Priory of St. Wigbert in Wern­ing­shausen, Germany.

Duffy said there are so few because Lutherans don’t value monastic life as highly as Roman Catholics, for a few reasons. First, he said Lutherans do not believe asceticism is nec­essary because Luther was a monk who rejected his vows. Second, Duffy said Lutherans don’t pri­or­itize the same virtues as Catholics.

“I don’t think the Lutheran Church, at least how I’ve expe­ri­enced it, has a lot of need or respect for cul­ti­vating virtue, and at a monastery your entire life is dis­ci­pline, and by being dis­ci­plined through prayer and med­i­tation you learn virtue,” Duffy said. “It brings you closer to God, and that’s a more Catholic idea than a Lutheran idea.”

Cochran said the Lutheran belief that Luther freed people from monastic life is “par­tially true.”

“But there are also stories of entire monas­teries con­verting to Lutheranism and con­tinuing to do their work of God all the way into the 18th century,” Cochran said.

Cochran said young people visit often, some staying for a day or two and others staying for an entire semester to study and write. He said some come for spir­itual con­nection, some for aca­demic study, and others out of a curiosity about alter­na­tives to modern life.

“There’s a high level of curiosity about the monastic way of life and the monastic take on the present culture. In a very mate­ri­al­istic culture, monas­ticism presents a very non-mate­ri­al­istic way of life,” Cochran said. “Schools fund their stay and they write about monastic life. They live, pray, and work with us. It’s a steady flow of young people through here.”

Saint Augustine’s House is an order fol­lowing Bene­dictine Rule, which means monks adheres to the prin­ciples of monastic life set forth by Saint Benedict of Nursia, a Catholic monk. So, the Lutheran monks have taken vows of chastity and obe­dience, they’ve com­mitted them­selves to silent reflection, and they’ve given up their pos­ses­sions to the com­munity, but they aren’t entirely ascetic — they love some of earth’s plea­sures.

“The monks would take turns cooking for dinner and supper,” Duffy said. “They were very good cooks, like, excellent cooks.”

The Lutheran Monastery doesn’t draw influ­ences from just the Catholic monastic orders. It also is a meeting place for Christian rep­re­senting dif­ferent sects.

Duffy said that Saint Augustine’s House invites pastors, preachers, fathers, and leaders from various churches to join in worship.

“We’d have Anglicans, evan­gel­icals, Lutherans, orthodox, you name it — they were there.”

Cochran artic­u­lated three mis­sions guiding the oper­ation of Saint Augustine’s House, one of which shows the reason for the mixing of dif­ferent Christian sects.

He said monks founded the monastery in 1958 “for ecu­menical work among Lutherans in North America,” which he has made a pri­ority.

“This becomes a neutral ground, a place where people can meet and have the­o­logical and social con­ver­sation with each other about issues which they agree and do not agree — without killing each other,” Cochran said. “We get along better now than we did in earlier cen­turies. But getting along and tol­er­ating each other is not what’s in the mouth of the Lord in the New Tes­tament. Christ prayed that we be one. Our relating and our growing isn’t ever com­plete until we are one.”

Cochran said their other two founding mis­sions are to spread “the call that Jesus gives not to be owned by your pos­ses­sions but to use them to do good to each other” and to create a com­munity for mar­gin­alized people, specif­i­cally in col­lapsing urban envi­ron­ments.

Starting 2018 back in school, Duffy already sees that he’s winning the battle against a sin con­sidered deadly in monas­teries: acedia. He said it’s like the deadly sin of sloth, though it extends beyond mere apathy and laziness.

“It’s a disgust for activity and a sorrow over spir­itual goodness,” he said. “Acedia is a very serious vice that is affecting modern culture in ways that we don’t even realize it. I was prone to this vice and still am. I con­sider it a grace from God that much of that has been helped. Cer­tainly it’s only through prayer and con­stantly being in Scripture.”

He describes acedia as mindless activity, or the desire to do nothing rather than some­thing. It’s like binge-watching a show on Netflix, not so that you can glean any­thing from the program, but simply so you can shut off your mind for 60 minutes, he said.

“When you translate that to your rela­tionship with Christ, it’s very destructive,” Duffy said “You don’t want to put in the effort, so to speak, to foster the rela­tionship through prayer, med­i­tation, and devotion.”

Sophomore Spencer Bohlinger also came to Saint Augustine’s House for a weekend visit to see Duffy and expe­rience monastic life.

“The amount of rev­erence they have in their faith was striking and inspiring,” Bohlinger said. “Even the short time I was there, I felt a lot closer and con­nected to God in those moments.”

Duffy, like Bohlinger, wants to return to the monastery’s comfort and seclusion whenever pos­sible, and also to Father John, whose name is more than a title.

“He’s a mentor, almost like a father to me now,” Duffy said.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi