Life in the Monastery
Br. Ted Trinko, IVE
“So… what do you guys do there?”
This type of question was repeated by many people when I told them that I was entering a monastery. Not having entered yet, I just told them how I understood it would be like with a very general description which could be applied to any monastery in the world. After having spent a year in the Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de El Pueyo, I can provide a little bit of a more detailed answer.
The story of this monastic location dates back to the year 1101 when Our Lady appeared to a shepherd by the name of Balandran (later declared a saint by popular demand, that is, the Vatican hasn’t signed off on his canonization yet) asking him to build a sanctuary on El Pueyo (the hill) of Barbastro. Since that time, there has been a sanctuary on El Pueyo dedicated to Our Lady. One of the biggest developments at the location over the centuries was the coming of the Benedictine monks in 1896 who built the current monastery and hostel. At one time numbering as many as 40 professed monks and 20 students (colegiales), the community that was present in 1936 was martyred by revolutionary communist forces. All 18 of them were beatified in 2013 as Blessed Mauro Paurazuelo and Companion Martyrs. For most of the second half of the 20th century, the Claretian Fathers looked after the sanctuary until 2009 when the IVE accepted care of it.
In 2013 the IVE General Council decided to make El Pueyo the Institute’s monastic house of formation for priests and seminarians who desire to join the monastic branch. Currently there are five of us seminarians in formation here with a few more coming this year from the Argentinian and Italian seminaries. Thanks be to God, one of the seminarians was ordained a deacon here last year (the very first ordination of Barbastro’s newly ordained Bishop!) while the other four of us, Good Lord willing, will be ordained this year. There are also six monk priests in the community and two apostolic priests in residence.
Due to the different stages of religious life, it is necessary to have a dual-schedule system with the priests following one schedule and the seminarians following another. In general, the seminarian schedule is very similar that which we live in Washington. After an early wakeup at 5:00 (okay, this first part isn’t so similar) we sing the Office and Morning Prayer at 5:30 and then have a period of adoration until the 7:00 community Mass. From here on the schedule begins to resemble Washington with five 40 minute class periods which last until lunch followed by a siesta. In the afternoon we have an hour of work and then three hours of celda (time in our cells) until the 7:00 adoration which ends with the singing of Evening Prayer, Benediction, and the Good Night. The final activities before Night Prayer are dinner and the daily recreation in which we all get to practice the virtues of Eutrapelia. Sometimes we simply sit at the table and talk but usually there’s some card or board games and ping pong happening. After around 45 minutes of recreation we sing Night Prayer and turn in around 10:00.
The priests of the community have a schedule which begins and ends like ours but instead of morning classes they have an hour of Lectio Divino, two and a half hours of work, and the communal singing of Midmorning and Midday prayer which take place before and after the work respectively. We seminarians assume this schedule on Saturdays, during weeks in which there are no classes, and the entire summer. This rotation between the two schedules is a very helpful aspect which allows one to adjust to a more monastic way of life over time rather than abruptly changing.
As the community is of a reasonable size, we have begun rejuvenating some practices which generally fell into disuse after the slaughter of the Benedictine community. Among them is the care of around half of the monastery’s olive orchard (3000 trees in total!) which we prune, cultivate, plow the surrounding ground, harvest, and ultimately turn into olive oil. Some of the oil is sold in souvenir form to pilgrims (yes, we have a gift shop) while another batch is set aside for monastery use. There is also an abandoned winery which was carved into the side of our little mountain which we hope to resurrect in the future. In the kitchen, we are able to make our own jams and bake our bread. Another activity (also an apostolate) which is proper to the monastery is the reception of pilgrims and huespedes (guests who stay in the monastery’s hostel).
While these and other little tasks form an important part of the daily routine, the principle monastic activities go unseen. The principle reason why the monk lives a life of prayer, penance, silence, solitude, and separation from the world (that is, the reason why there are monks) is to devote himself to the unum necessarium. “With their vocation and way of life [monks] proclaim that God is everything and that He must be all in all.” The Directory of Contemplative Life speaks at length of this aspect of our life within the Institute before going on to consider some “specific apostolates” of the monastic branch.
One of those listed is the liturgical apostolate which is lived out very faithfully here at El Pueyo. Being a sanctuary of both Our Lady and recently becoming one of martyrs, we try to solemnize their celebrations and promulgate devotion to both. The devotion to Our Lady is principally manifested by the annual Romerias, (pilgrimages of entire towns) to the sanctuary in the months of April and May in honor of Our Lady who is the patron of the surrounding Somontano region. For these pilgrimages the monk priests will celebrate the Mass, hear confessions, lead the rosary, and perhaps spend some time with the pilgrims. Overall, it’s a beautiful day-long outpouring of devotion to Our Lady which usually ends with the Church being decked with flowers.
We are attempting to foster devotion to the martyrs in a number of ways. While the church itself does not contain much from 1936 (the communists burned everything that they could and left only the stripped choir stalls intact; we sing the office daily in these seats), we have added hand carved wooden statues of each of the 18 martyrs around the Church and have also renovated the sanctuary around a new altar which contains the relics of 15 of them (the other three were killed apart from the main group and their remains were never found). Also, we sell literature and distribute pamphlets and holy cards of the martyrs. One of the monks here is currently writing a detailed account of their martyrdom. Above all we solemnize their memorial (August 30) as much as we are able to. This year a professional choir was able to sing a Mass written by Fr. Jon de Ars in honor of the martyrs, and the auxiliary bishop of Madrid came to celebrate the Mass. So many people attended the Mass that the Church was filled to overflowing. Following the liturgy, in typical IVE fashion, we hosted a meal and put on a fogón. This was in turn followed by a presentation on the martyrs and a choir recital. The day ended with an hour of adoration and the solemn singing of Evening Prayer.
It is truly a special blessing to be able to live at El Pueyo and pray, work, eat, and sleep where the martyrs did all these activities. With their relics and statues constantly before us in the church, we need not look far for true examples of monastic life. Through the intercession of these patrons of the IVE’s monastic branch, we pray for the grace to be faithfully dedicated to the unum necessarium (Lk 10:42).
We commend ourselves to your prayers and assure you of ours.