Jesus, in the midst of his ministry, took time to leave the crowds and go to a lonely place to spend time in solitude with his Father: “Early in the morning long before dawn, Jesus got up and went off to a lonely place to pray” Mark 1:35.
In the early centuries of Christianity, many men and women heard the call to leave behind a worldly existence; going out into the desert, they sought purity of heart and an intimate union with God through an ascetical life of prayer and solitude. Over time, many Christians came together to seek God in organised communities, inspired by the vision of the early Church in Jerusalem – the “koinonia” in Acts 2 and 4.
St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) wrote a Rule for monastic living, creating a “school of the Lord’s service” (Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict) as a context in which the members are to learn the ways of God: how to die to self and selfishness in order to be free to live for God and others. In the monastery, “good zeal” is to be “fostered with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else” (Rule of St Benedict Ch72).
In St Benedict’s vision of monastic living, the members are to encourage and support each other in their search for union with God.