Become a Monk, Only Without the Lifetime Celibacy Thing

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Have you ever wanted to be a monk but are turned off by the inconveniences of monastic life? Maybe said to yourself, "Gee, I'd love to devote my whole life to God, but that's so hard. How about just four days? And that life-of-celibacy thing is a deal breaker."

If so, your prayers will be answered in June when the Friends of St. Benedict host the 15th annual Dallas Benedictine Experience, which is not an incredibly soothing IMAX film but a four-day religious retreat at which participants create "a temporary monastic community to experience the balanced way of life of The Rule of St. Benedict."

The temporary monks (and nuns, I should add) pay $365 ($395 for a private room) for four days at the Catholic Conference and Formation Center in Oak Cliff where they will learn to perform the Benedictine offices in English and Gregorian chant, attend two classes each day, perform light chores and otherwise live in communal silence.

I ended up speaking with George Trauth, who helped establish the Dallas retreat 15 years ago. I reached him last week on his cell phone at a Quaker retreat center just south of Philadelphia. Aha, I thought. A serenity junky.

Trauth, in an unwaveringly placid voice, explained that he had attended a similar retreat in Northern California in the late 1990s, after which he convinced the D.C.-based Friends of St. Benedict to establish one in Dallas. He was a public high school teacher at the time, which goes some way toward explaining his affinity for the monastic life.

The event has been a success, attracting around 30 people each year from a range of Christian denominations and several states who come for the chance to escape the demands of everyday life and focus on their relationship with Christ.

It's a process of "emptying the self of bad qualities so that good qualities can come into bloom," Trauth said. "People hunger for this."

Just don't go in expecting tonsured men in floor-length robes shuffling through the dim stone corridors of a centuries-old abbey, transcribing ancient texts into Latin.

"You will find that monks and nuns are the most ordinary people you could meet anywhere," Trauth said.

Except, of course, for that whole celibacy thing.

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