January 8, 2010

Religious Vocations Supplement

Benedictine brother finds meaning and happiness at Saint Meinrad Archabbey

Benedictine Brother Matthew Mattingly, left, and Jacob Niemand, a seminarian from the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., attend class at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. (Submitted photo)

Benedictine Brother Matthew Mattingly, left, and Jacob Niemand, a seminarian from the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., attend class at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Looking back now, he can see when the turning point came for him—when his search for meaning and happiness started during one of the most difficult parts of his young life.

“Right after college, I got a job out west in Seattle, Washington,” said Benedictine Brother Matthew Mattingly, a 1997 graduate of Indiana University in Bloomington.

“When I was out there, my parents got divorced. It shook my world. The next five years, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was also in a relationship that fell apart. And I was in a career that I didn’t feel good about. I was working for a large company in sales and marketing. In college, I wanted to make a lot of money. Then I realized that money and success weren’t the true things for me.”

Brother Matthew paused before continuing. “I had a spiritual emptiness in my life. I started to go back to church in fits and starts. Then I went back every week, joined a parish and started to go to daily Mass. I had the sense that this was the truth. And I felt I needed to get deeper and deeper in my knowledge of my faith. I ended up moving back to Evansville in 2004 to be closer to home. That’s when I got serious about discerning my life. I thought I might have a vocation. It was silly for me not to check it out.”

As he recently discussed his journey of faith, Brother Matthew mentioned that more than four years have passed since he made a retreat at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad to view the life of a monk firsthand. He had come there in the fall of 2005 at the suggestion of the pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Evansville in the Evansville Diocese. He acknowledged that he had his doubts about becoming a monk.

“I had an idea in my mind what a monk was—and it was negative,” Brother Matthew recalled. “I pictured a place of silence, not a very joyful place. But when I came to Saint Meinrad, I saw men who had a lot of joy for life. It totally overturned my whole idea, and gave me a new perspective of what monastic life is. I could see myself being a monk.”

He entered the monastery in 2006. Now 34, he expects to make his final vows in August.

“Being around all the other young people in formation, I could see they were normal people like me,” he said. “Most of the monks here have a great sense of humor. Monastic life is very serious and prayer is one of the main things here, but we also have time to play. I’ve made some wonderful friendships here. When people come to a monastery, guests often think we’re saints. The truth is that all of us are striving for that. But we’re regular people who are just trying to find God. There’s lots of joy and humor in this place.”

Brother Matthew has found a home in the monastery. He has also found meaning and happiness.

The meaning comes from living a life focused on God.

“The longer I’m here, the deeper the appreciation I have for what the monastic life is,” he said. “It’s so rooted in the history of the Church, the way our liturgy is today, and the whole spirituality of the Church in general. The more that becomes revealed to me, the more I want to go further and deeper and learn about it.”

The happiness comes from discovering the changes in his life.

“I’ve grown during this time,” he said. “The biggest thing is I’m more patient—not just with others but [with] myself. I’m more comfortable with who I am. I’m more comfortable with forgiving my own weaknesses, and I’m more forgiving of others. You can’t hide things when you live in a community. I’ve learned that people are willing to forgive me [for] my shortcomings. And I’m more willing to take risks in revealing myself to other people.”

The change in Brother Matthew has been noticed by others, too.

“Brother Matthew exemplifies balance of work and prayer, and a bit of play as well,” said Benedictine Brother John Mark Falkenhain, the monastery’s vocation director. “He’s a good example of someone who has been to college, who has worked and who has discovered that his faith is more important to him than he thought. He just realized he had a call to the monastic life, which is like all of us in a way.

“Another thing that I admire about Brother Matthew is his willingness to try new things and step outside his comfort zone a little—teaching, working with youth, giving retreats. In general, he’s on the quiet, introverted side, but he’s stretched himself. Not only has the community benefited, but he has as well.”

Brother Matthew gives the credit to God.

“I have a real appreciation for what it means when we talk about God’s Providence,” Brother Matthew said. “At the time, when I was going through those difficult parts of my life, I thought it was the end of the world. Looking back, all of them had a small part in leading me to where I am now, where I should be and where God wants me to be.

“It just amazes me how God works. Even the things that seem awful have a purpose, a meaning. It gives you a sense of hope.”

(For more information about Saint Meinrad Archabbey, log on to www.saintmeinrad.edu.)

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