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
A Job or a Calling?
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 can be tempting 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 more than 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 a 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.
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? What calls us to give our whole lives to seek God here, in this place, with this group of men, in vows that bind us for life? There are many answers, and yet a common purpose has led us to this life as the way that God has called us to love. Read more about what makes us love this life.
We join 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). A desire to know, love, and serve God is at the heart of every vocation to the religious life.
“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” asks the psalmist (Ps 116:10). Gratitude fuels our love for God and our service to our neighbors. Giving thanks is an essential quality of every Christian life, and of every true vocation to the religious life.
A Life of Worship
Our regular gatherings for common prayer are an essential part of our life. Days punctuated by regular offerings of worship and praise remind us that our lives revolve around God; we can easily forget this when distracted by our own desires. Worship orients our life towards God.
Opportunity for Prayer
Silent spaces give us opportunity for individual prayer, and the chance to draw near to Christ. The icon of the Beloved Disciple leaning on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper has a special place for us, reminding us that we can share this same intimacy with Christ through prayer.
Conversion of Life
We expect, through these divine encounters, to be transformed and to be made more into the image and likeness of Christ. Most of us have come with the hope of growth in freedom from the world of sin and into union with God. Conversion of life is our desire and our goal.
Life with Others
The rewards of life together are significant. Most of us have grown into deep friendships here, have found like-minded men committed to similar values, and have discovered a place of freedom where we can be ourselves, and where we experience what it means to be loved by others.
Availability for God
We find in this life freedom from many of the responsibilities that others bear. Because we share all things in common, we find an availability to be "men of the moment," responsive to the movements of the Spirit in the present age and the purposes of God in the world.
Service to Others
We offer ourselves in the service of Christ’s Church, and of the world that God has made. Religious life gives us opportunities to serve Christ, in meeting the needs of our brothers, our guests, and those we encounter outside. We come to serve, just as Christ did.
Prayer and Preaching
We work and pray for the sake of others, preaching and teaching the gospel, and offering our prayers on behalf of, and in union with, all people. Preaching and leading retreats are central ministries for the community, and all brothers are trained in offering them.
Becoming Who We Are
Many of us have found here a life that suits our personality, temperament, and gifts. We recognize in this life an opportunity to become the person we God has created us to be. We are challenged by its demands, but we rise up to its challenges with hope for who we can become.
The Call of God
Finally, there is the sense that our coming to this life was not all our own, but the beckoning of God’s grace. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16). We rely on the sense that God has desired this for us, and that “the Lord will make good his purpose for [us]” (Ps 138:9).
Choosing Again and Again
We have chosen this life as our way of loving God above all and loving our neighbors as ourselves. For us, it is the way that beckons most strongly. To live this vocation faithfully requires embracing it daily, 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 lives we dreamed of living. Want to know more about what keeps us here? We invite you to start a conversation with us. We'd love to tell you more about what we've found.
Where Prayer Has Been Valid: The Gift of Our Home
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 respond with out lives, 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 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. 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 forebears. We invite you to learn more about Richard Benson, Simeon O'Neill, and Charles Grafton, our founding three members.