“If we are what we eat,” asks Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, “then do we really want to ‘super-size it’?”
So begins a one-minute episode of The One-Minute Monk, which premiered on Catholic radio across the nation in June and July. In short segments of just sixty seconds, Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey (a 132-year old monastery located just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina) provides insights into how to cope with modern life and its distractions, noise, and confusion through applying the wisdom embodied in the 1500-year old Rule of St Benedict, which guides his monastic community. Yes, in The Rule is guidance for your diet! If you don’t believe me, at http://www.oneminutemonk.com/, you can order a free copy of a modernized English translation of The Rule with an introduction by Abbot Placid.
“When we introduced The One-Minute Monk to Catholic radio in late May, we were unsure of the response,” says Sherry Brownrigg of the Kennedy Brownrigg Group, the producer and distributor. “Nearly 70% of Catholic radio stations have already agreed to air the show, with more telling us they will likely work it into their fall rotation. We just recorded the second dozen episodes, covering everything from prayer to anger to joy, and so much more. I myself didn’t realize how a short booklet written to order monastic life in the 6th century could apply to our modern life outside a religious community.”
Ken Davison, who is a Vice President at Belmont Abbey College, which is hosted on the Abbey’s property, had the original idea for the series. “When I moved down here two years ago to join the college,” Davison says, “I lived for two months as a guest in the monastery. I was given a copy of The Rule and observed firsthand how the monks lived according to it. In discussions with them, I began to realize how it is a guide to daily growth in holiness that can aid us all, whether within monastery walls or without. A Benedictine monastery is a family, and The Rule is truly a guide to family life. Well, God puts us all into families of one kind or another, so it actually makes a lot of sense to introduce the modern stressed out, maxed out, on-the-go Catholic to the wisdom of 1500 years ago. What’s more, when our Holy Father chooses Benedict as his name, it suggests that he thinks the original Benedict had something important to say to us today.”
Executing the idea of bringing the wisdom of St Benedict to today’s Catholics, forward through a millennium and a half, required teamwork. “I’m just the one who had the idea,” continues Davison. “It’s been the hard word of the people who stepped up energetically to execute it which has made this a success story and not just another interesting idea.”
First, Abbot Placid insisted on a modernized English translation of The Rule to make it more accessible, especially to younger generations. J. Conor Gallagher of Saint Benedict Press in Charlotte, NC, took on that task, relying on a beautiful English translation of over 100 years ago, updated for the “modern ear.” In his editor’s note, Gallagher writes that he wanted to retain the “elegance” of that English edition. “The challenge is to retain that richness, that elegance that permeated the written English of educated men a hundred or even fifty years ago” he writes, while “temper[ing] the archaic tone that turns away too many readers.” He found that “removing the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ was insufficient,” and he referred back to a Latin text for verification that he was remaining true to the author’s intent. Rose Wagner, a freshman in Belmont Abbey College’s prestigious Honors Institute, was responsible for the literally hundreds of Scriptural citations embedded in the work.
Creating a radio series with the professional polish to which “modern ears” are accustomed required other expertise. Eric Genuis, an award-winning Catholic composer and virtuoso pianist, provided the music that supports the radio commentary. Then Sherry Brownrigg brought it all together from script consulting to voice coaching to overall production, with the needs of modern radio programming foremost in mind.
The Rule has lasted so long due to its moderation and flexibility, which makes it continually applicable across cultures and times. As Abbot Placid notes, the saint himself advises the Abbot of a monastery to exercise great prudence in applying the rule, to allow “the strong to have something to strive for, and the weak nothing to run from.” Sounds like good advice to me.