A Culture of Love
The Cultural Impact of Tautra Mariakloster
A monastery is often called “a school of charity,” referring to “charity” not so much in the
modern colloquial sense of simply being kind, but more in the original etymological sense, from
the Latin “caritas”, which is a virtue similar to the Greek “agape”, one of the several types of
“love”. Thus monasteries are schools of love, specifically, of the divine love of God; even more
specifically, Christian monasteries are schools of the divine love of Christ.
In the posthumous collection of writings entitled The Monastic Journey, the Trappist monk
Thomas Merton wrote:
“St. Bernard of Clairvaux expanded and implemented the thought of St. Benedict when
he called the monastery ‘a school of charity.’ The main object of monastic discipline,
according to St. Bernard, was to restore man’s nature created in the image and likeness of
God – that is to say, created for love and for self-surrender.”
Merton himself had given the title “The School of Charity” to one of his own pamphlets, and
although the pamphlet was never published in its intended form, the title was adapted as a
subtitle of Merton’s book Monastic Peace, later included in The Monastic Journey. In 1990 the
title appeared yet again, on a publication of “The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious
Renewal and Spiritual Direction,” the third volume in a 5-volume series. Trappists and
Trappistines – the same order as that of Tautra Mariakloster – have rarely found a more eloquent
expression of their charism than through the voice of Brother Louis, known to the rest of the
world as Thomas Merton, whose prolific writings are still cherished today, more than 40 years
after his death. And perhaps no one has ever articulated more aptly the Culture of Love, or the
School of Charity, that is at the essence of the O.C.S.O. tradition, than did Merton.
Such are the elements of monasticism. And all are central aspects of life at Tautra Mariakloster.
Far from being an abstract philosophy, however, concepts such as these represent a very
practical type of common sense, and perhaps the only feasible way for humanity to survive.
Fruits of Monastic Life
In general, the cultural impact of any monastery upon the society in which it is located may be
felt in a number of different ways. Among their many other gifts to those around them,
monasteries offer a different perspective of life, especially in regard to hope, love, work, human
interaction, and the meaning of life itself. In each case, monasteries bring the ancient wisdom of
their respective theological traditions into a modern context, offering to the societies of today a
type of understanding and approach to human coexistence that has been successfully tried and
tested for nearly 2 millennia in Christianity, ever since Anthony of Egypt first retreated into the
desert in the 3 century A.D., and for over 2 millennia rd in the Eastern monastic tradition that
dates from Buddhism circa 500 B.C. on the Indian subcontinent. It is no accident that
monasticism has survived for as long as it has, thriving in both the Eastern and Western
traditions, as a world without monasteries would be a very bleak and dark world, indeed.
Humanity needs monasteries, if for no other reason than to remind us of the true nature of our
own humanity. But the monastic treasury of gifts to society is far greater and more innumerable
than this, some qualities of which are briefly addressed below.
Ora et Labora
Prayer and manual labor fill the monk’s day. In addition to earning their living by the work of
their hands, monastic communities are centered around the praise of God. At Tautra
Mariakloster, Mass, Adoration, the Divine Office and personal lectio divina are focal points of
the daily rhythm; and since most of the Office is sung, music is a vital component of their
From simple observations such as these, one may immediately see that Christian monasteries
cultivate those elements of human interaction which nurture life and growth, as attention is paid
to several fundamental concepts, such as:
1/ the nature of God’s divine Love, which presupposes the notion that there is a God,
2/ the well-being of one’s neighbor,
3/ the importance of eternity and the afterlife,
4/ the health and well-being of one’s own spiritual nature, without which human physical
nature cannot exist,
5/ the example of Christ’s life as a model for our own.
One can well imagine how secular society might be different if everyone were attentive to such
considerations. People of all faiths, even people of no faith, could benefit at least by the
acknowledgment of such concepts, whether or not one chooses to agree with them.
Life and Light
In concrete terms, a Culture of Love is a culture of life, a culture of respect, a culture that fosters
mutual understanding and growth. It emphasizes service to one’s neighbor rather than greed for
oneself. It gives to others, instead of taking from others. It honors and upholds the fundamental
dignity that is at the essence of every human being. It strives to nurture the basic goodness of
each individual, it recognizes a higher power than oneself, and it humbly asks this higher power
to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” A culture of life is an
ancient antidote to the modern “culture of death” that insidiously permeates every developed and
developing nation on earth.
Abortion, divorce, broken families, materialism, drugs, terrorism, war, corporate corruption, the
global economic crisis, etc. etc.: what could possibly be more relevant to these modern plagues
than the “alternative” ideals that monasteries offer? At the very least, the presence of a
monastery in a society reminds us that there are, in fact, such things as ethics and morals.
The ancient yet ever new, always fresh perspective that monasteries offer is applicable to every
contemporary dilemma and conundrum of our era, and of every era. Such a perspective is
particularly relevant to the political leaders of the world – in fact, it is a perspective that is
Christian monasteries shine as an example of Christ’s love for each and every one of us. To
many, this type of revelation is a source of comfort and consolation, a cause for great rejoicing;
to some, however, it might pose an uncomfortable and conflicting view to unchallenged beliefs,
or to an absence of beliefs. In either case, the mere existence of a monastery forces the observer
to question and to seek the Truth, by whatever means might be possible for that particular
individual. An encounter with a monastery, no matter how brief, has often launched many an
inquiring mind on a personal spiritual quest. No doubt there have been as many conclusions and
results of such quests as there are individual people – but regardless of what one’s personal
background might be, and regardless of where the journey might lead, for those who dare to
embark upon the journey, monasteries cannot be ignored.
Hope & Courage
In the midst of an uncertain and dangerous world, the mere sight of a monastery is a sign of
hope. A monastic presence emanates a stabilizing, centering influence, reminding us to “be not
afraid.” Christian monasteries offer us the faith that God will “give us this day our daily bread,”
as we are also reminded that if we merely ask, we shall receive.
Especially in the aftermath of a tragedy such as Utøya, the presence of a Christian monastery
offers the hope of resurrection and an afterlife, the possibility of embracing our loved ones again
in Heaven, and the knowledge that we will enjoy their company throughout eternity. It offers the
theological certitude that there is no such thing as final death, that good shall triumph over evil,
joy will vanquish sorrow, and human suffering is not in vain.
Non-Catholics and even non-Christians have been known to draw strength and courage from the
Christian monastic example of persevering with fortitude through difficult times – without
despair, without fear, but instead grounded in unshakable faith and joy, not in the things of this
world but in the higher power of an Absolute which transcends all worldly concerns.
In 1946, the Jewish Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl
authored Man’s Search for Meaning, still considered one of the most influential works of
philosophy and psychiatry ever written. By the time of Dr. Frankl’s death in 1997, the book had
sold over 10 million copies in 24 languages, and it is still in print and for sale today.
The human being has always turned its gaze toward the stars, wondering why we are here, what
is the point of it all, and what is the meaning of life. If one does not look beyond oneself and
beyond this world for the answers to such questions, one will surely be disappointed. By
contrast, monasteries offer timeless answers to these age-old existential questions: answers that
are framed within the wisdom of the ages, filled with hope, meaning and encouragement,
applicable to any person, place and time.
Inner Fulfillment & Joy
St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in
People who do not have God in their lives seek a substitute for God, whether that be through
money, material possessions, pleasure, fame, or anything else that fuels the ego. There is, of
course, no substitute for God. The trappings of this world do not satisfy the universal human
hunger for God. Only God can satisfy the soul’s longing.
A monastery stands as an eloquent, living testament to this fact.
As Mother Teresa often pointed out, the material poverty of the East is surpassed only by the
spiritual poverty of the West. But a monastery radiates that deep inner fulfillment which is
possible only when one seeks God first and foremost, above all else, irrespective of one’s
material lot in life.
In the radiant smiles of each member of a monastic community, the secular world gets a small
glimpse into the type of peace that surpasses all understanding, and which is readily available to
anyone who seeks it, although few ever do.
One need not join a monastery in order to benefit from its example! Indeed, there is much to be
learned even from a distance, especially for those who are active members of secular society. In
fact, those who bear ordinary responsibilities within the context of modern secular life are
perhaps the very people who can benefit the most from the monastic example, as it is precisely
such people who can help radiate the Culture of Love throughout the rest of the world, having
first been fortified and strengthened, enriched and informed by the lessons and insights which
Gifts of the Spirit
In previous centuries, monasteries were the custodians of art and literature, preserving for
posterity the greatest achievements of civilization. Although this remains true to a lesser extent
today, the most valuable gift of monasticism in future years may simply be the preservation and
transmission of faith, hope and love.
Monasteries also remind us that mankind’s search for God is not nearly as relentless as God’s
search for mankind. The hounds of Heaven are after us!
At the Heart of Frosta
Turning one’s attention from the general to the specific, one may easily see that Tautra
Mariakloster continues to touch and change the lives of others, in very real ways, as it has done
since its founding. To put it in religious terms, Tautra Mariakloster is a blessing to all who come
in contact with it. Each person who has experienced this fact can articulate their own personal
details to this effect – and they often do!
The impact which Tautra Mariakloster has on its neighboring society is profound, though such
an impact is not uni-directional, but it is reciprocated, as the cultural influences of Norway on
Tautra Mariakloster are equally as profound. Certainly one can hear the cross-pollenation in the
liturgical music that is sung, in the Norwegian language, at Tautra Mariakloster every day, but
this is merely one of many manifestations. If one could look inside the hearts of the members of
Tautra Mariakloster, no doubt one would find a deep love of Norway, of the Norwegian people
and culture, indelibly engraved upon each heart, closely guarded and protected within each
member of this monastic community that has been so warmly welcomed and adopted by the
people of Norway. Monasteries have always been intimately connected with their neighboring
cultures, and in this respect Tautra Mariakloster is one of the most fortunate of all monasteries.
Not only has Tautra Mariakloster touched and changed the lives of the many Norwegian citizens
with whom it has come in contact, but many of these Norwegians have also touched and changed
the lives of each member of the Tautra Mariakloster community. Beyond any of our own lives,
however, Tautra Mariakloster extends its loving reach further than the geographic boundaries of
Norway, and further into the future than our current vision allows. Tautra Mariakloster’s role in
history is now secured, as is Frosta’s role in providing the venue for this bold and brave venture,
the first monastery of its type on Norwegian soil in 8 centuries. As impressed as humanity might
be today by such an achievement, no doubt the impact will be even greater upon posterity, as the
full story continues to unfold in each of your lives and hearts, ultimately recounted in history
books throughout the world.
A Radical Way of Living and Thinking
A monastery is a powerful symbol of the highest and noblest qualities to which the human being
is capable of rising. Yet the mere concept of a monastery is so radically different from “the
norm” that some people still don’t quite know what to make of it.
So whenever one is weary from the weight of worldly matters, just remember that there is such a
thing on this earth as a monastery, where the human spirit is allowed, and indeed encouraged, to
aspire toward otherworldly goals, and to soar to Heavenly realms. Whenever one is in need of a
moral compass or beacon for navigating the twists and turns of life, turn to monasteries for that
guiding direction and light. Whenever one needs a radiant smile or the sweetness of a joyful
greeting, an understanding ear or the comforting touch of a hand, born of divine love and
profound inner peace, turn to the members of a monastery. And when, fortunate people of
Norway, you feel the need for a sign of God’s mysterious love for you, look no further than
For within each monastery the miraculous flame of God’s love dwells among us, shining
brightly throughout the earth, never letting us forget the beauty of our souls’ origin.
What individual person, what family or household, what neighborhood, city or nation, and which
of the world’s many great religions, would not eagerly welcome such a treasure?