"If we only let people see that we are living upon a truth,
and loving it, they will soon catch the life."
- Richard Meux Benson (founder of SSJE)
Catch the Life: Monastic Life Today
Why Settle for a Job?
Our monastery is in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that’s not by accident. We are here, in this busy hub, because we want to be available to young people at the crucial moment of their education and formation. It’s too easy to settle for just looking for a job after graduation. What about a vocation – something that illuminates your heart, mind, and soul and demands your whole being?
We Brothers come from all kinds of backgrounds and previous careers, we are lay and ordained. Yet we are united by our one common purpose: to live for God and share God's love with others.
Our community was founded 150 years ago and draws on deep Christian monastic roots dating to the fourth century, yet SSJE is no dusty relic. We don’t live in the past. Nor is monastic life some form of retreat from reality. In fact, for those who are called, monastic life is our way of most deeply engaging our lives; it's a life that calls upon the whole of our selves, in which we can offer ourselves back to God and to God's mission. We hope that our way of life will bear witness to the world today, teaching people to pray their lives, and spreading Jesus' message of peace, justice, dignity, and love to a world hungry to hear it.
Giving God Our All
It’s not for everyone, but for those who are called, the monastic life is the most passionate vocation: a life of intentionality, total dedication, and complete immersion.
Our Rule of Life describes the call of our community in this way:
Our mission is inseparable from our call to live in union with God in prayer, worship and mutual love. Christ breathes his Spirit into us to be the one source of our own conversion and of our witness and mission to others; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We are sent to be servants of God’s children and ministers of the reconciliation which the Lamb of God has accomplished. Our own unity is given to be a sign that will draw others to have faith in him. Christ has entrusted to us the same word that the Father gave to him, so that those who hear it from our lips and perceive it in our lives may receive the light and through believing have life in his name.
Last year, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of SSJE's founding and went on pilgrimage to England to visit the place of our origin. These two photographs are taken in the same spot, 127 years apart.
Sights and Sounds of Our Life
Explore the tabs below to experience some of the richness of our daily life as Brothers. Stroll the cloister with Br. Geoffrey. Listen to the journey from the hustle of Harvard Square into the silence of the Monastery. Chant along with our prayer. Or share our practice of listening to the words of our Rule, read aloud.
Explore a day in the life of Br. Geoffrey Tristram. We're grateful to the Office of Communication of the Episcopal Church for producing and sharing this evocative glimpse into our life.
What might draw someone to embrace the radical possibility of monastic life today?
Learn more about why we Brothers came to the Monastery – and why we stay, day by day.
Why We Came, Why We Stay
Why We Came
What draws men to monastic life when so many other options are available to us today? What is it about this life that gives us sufficient reason to give our whole lives to seek God here, in this particular place and with this particular group of men, in vows that bind us for life? If we were to poll our community we would undoubtedly find a range of answers. And yet common passions and a common purpose has led all of us to embrace religious life as the particular way in which God has called us to love and service. Read more about what makes us love this life.
Those of us who come here, come seeking God. We share the desire of the psalmist who said, “One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Ps 27:5,6). The desire to know, love and serve God lies at the heart of every true vocation to the religious life.
A joyful vocation is one that arises out of a sense of deep gratitude for what one has received from the hand of God. “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” asks the psalmist (Ps 116:10), and our hearts rise up to answer, ‘I will give myself to God as completely as I know how.’ Gratitude fuels our love for God and our service to our neighbors. It is an essential quality of every Christian life, and certainly of every true vocation to religious life.
A Life of Worship
Whether we have come to sing chant or simply to say our prayers in the company of others, most of us are drawn to the rhythm of worship in the monastery. Having the day punctuated by regular offerings of worship and praise reminds us that our lives revolve around God, something we are apt to forget in a culture in which individuals are so obsessed with the pursuit of their own goals and desires. Worship orients our life towards God.
Opportunity for Prayer
Silent spaces in our life, times for meditation and for retreat, give us opportunity for individual prayer, and the chance to draw near to Christ as confidant, friend and brother. In our community the icon of the Beloved Disciple leaning on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper has a place of special significance, reminding us of the opportunity each of us has of sharing this same intimacy with Christ through prayer.
Conversion of Life
We expect, through these divine encounters, to be transformed and to be made more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. Most of us have come with this hope, that we will grow in freedom from the world of sin and into union with God. Transformation is our desire and our goal.
Life with Others
A good number of us would list ‘community life’ as one of the chief reasons for our choice, in spite of the challenges and difficulties that living together brings. The rewards of life together are significant. Most of us have grown into deep friendships here, have found other like-minded men committed to similar ideals and values, and have discovered a place of freedom where we can be ourselves, and where we experience what it means to be loved and valued by others. Community life can be a great gift to us.
Availability for God
We find in this life the freedom from many of the cares and responsibilities that others bear, for themselves and for their families. Because we share all things in common and because we forego the responsibilities of marriage or committed partnership, we find a freedom and availability that allows us to be ‘men of the moment,’ responsive to the movements of the Spirit in the present age and available for the purposes of God in the world.
Service to Others
We have a sense that we are here to work and to pray for others. We offer ourselves here in the service of Christ’s Church, and of the world that God has made. Religious life gives us many opportunities to serve Christ each day, in meeting the needs of our brothers, of those who come to our monastery, and of those whom we find opportunity to serve in the world about us. We come to serve, just as Christ did.
Preach, Teach, Pray
We work and pray for the sake of others, preaching and teaching the gospel, and offering our prayers and intercessions on behalf of, and in union with, all people throughout the world. Preaching is central to our life, and all Brothers are taught to preach. We have the privilege to live in a community of preachers, continually hearing multiple voices as we have a sermon at the Eucharist six days a week. All Brothers are also taught to lead retreats. Between Cambridge and Emery House this year, we are leading about two dozen retreats, plus a dozen missions to dioceses across the United States and Canada.
Becoming Who We're Created to Be
Many of us have found in religious life a life that uniquely ‘fits’ us, that suits our personality, temperament and gifts. We have recognized in this life, perhaps more than in any other, an opportunity to become the person we were uniquely created to be. We are daily stretched and challenged by its demands, but also find ourselves rising up to its challenges with hope and expectation for what we can become.
The Call of God
Finally, there is the “call of God,” the sense that our coming to this life was not our own doing, but the gentle beckoning of God’s grace in our lives. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16). In times of difficulty or stress, we rely on this deep and abiding sense that God has desired this for us, and that “the Lord will make good his purpose for [us]” (Ps 138:9).
Choosing Again & Again
Undoubtedly, there is more that could be said and many ways in which to say it. The bottom line is that we have chosen this life as our way of “loving God above all” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” It is not the only way, or necessarily the best way – but for us, it is the way that beckons most strongly and in which we find our true vocation. To live it faithfully requires choosing it again and again, embracing it day after day, renewing our purpose and our hope, and relying on God to give us all that we need.
Why We Stay
We've shared with you some of the reasons we came to SSJE, the desires that tugged at us and the life we dreamed of living. Want to know more about what keeps us here? Why we stay? We invite you to start a conversation with us. Click over to the "Journey" page and let us know what you're looking for in your life. We'd love to tell you more about what we've found in this one.
Radical Vows. Total Commitment.
We are made bold to embrace alternative values to those the world uplifts because we have known in our own lives the radical embrace of God. “We love because first he loved us.” In the face of God’s love, we Brothers feel called to make the ultimate response, taking three vows: poverty, celibacy and obedience. Such an extreme commitment to living a life of prayer and service is challenging. We are far from perfect; we don’t always reach our goals, or live up to our Rule of Life. An old saying goes, “A vistor asked a monk outside his monastery, ‘What do you do all day in there?’ The monk answered, ‘We fall down. We get up.’” By living together in our vows, we help each other to get back up.
The poor are blessed, Jesus says, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We are likewise blessed, when the circumstances of life compel us to recognize our poverty and need, and turn to put our whole trust in God.
-Br. David Vryhof
Celibacy reminds us that there are ways to intimacy that do not take us through the bedroom door. Celibacy and temperance are not simply about sexual abstinence, they are about recognizing the inherent dignity of both yourself and the other person.
-Br. James Koester
Father Benson summarizes the vow of obedience as a call to love. What we've been asked to do, we do it all out of love. Whatever it is that we are being called to be and do, it is ultimately not the satisfaction of some juridical rule or code, but rather a response of love.
-Br. Curtis Almquist
Meet the men who made us
Daily we feel inspired to live in the legacy of the visionary men who built our Society as well as those who, throughout the generations, have continued to lead our community into God's future. Whether through the vibrant witness of those who lived bold lives in public, or through the quiet witness of those who have lived profound lives of prayer, we are encouraged in this life by our forbears. We invite you to learn more about some of the men who made us. (And check back here regularly, as we will be expanding this section over time.)