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Finding the rhythm of contemplative life

Father Edward Hoffman makes a solemn profession at St. Benedict Monastery in Snowmass March 25.

Father Edward Hoffman began to feel a call to something different after ministering in the Denver metro area for 37 years.

“It basically began with my desire to deepen my own spiritual life and my life of prayer,” Father Hoffman, 69, told the Denver Catholic. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have one in the parochial ministry, which I loved. But I did a series of discernments when I was still in pastoral work, reflecting on where I was in my life.”

It came to him gradually “that the Lord was asking something more, something different” of him. That discernment led him to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass where he has lived since 2009. St. Benedict’s, situated on 3,500 acres in the Roaring Fork Valley about 15 miles from Aspen, is home to 15 brothers of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as Trappist monks. The contemplative order is rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict written some 1,500 years ago.

Father Hoffman sought the counsel of many people including then-Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Denver 1997-2011, while discerning monastic life.

“I owed him obedience as a priest of the diocese and it was certainly a matter of his discernment, as well as my own,” he said. “(Archbishop Chaput) could have very easily said, ‘I need you in the diocese … it’s just not possible.’

“He was very understanding, very supportive,” he continued. “Otherwise I never would’ve begun monastic formation.”

Denver Catholic file photos by James Baca

Last month Father Hoffman took the final step in his formal six-year discernment process when making a solemn profession of vows with the Trappists. Adhering to the monastic life in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict, his days are structured around prayer beginning with personal prayer at 3 a.m., followed by community prayer at 4:30 a.m., more private prayer such as lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture), then breakfast and 7:30 a.m. community prayer. One morning a week, the monks hold a chapter meeting where they share joys, difficulties or “whatever it might be,” Father Hoffman said.

The work day begins around 8 a.m. and continues until noon. The monastery’s principal means of support include a retreat house, gift shop, cookie-baking business and ranching.

“I’m involved primarily in ranch work,” he said. “There are two of us who are basically on duty year-round during the summer, when we’re raising hay and taking care of the cattle, and all the things you can imagine go on in a ranch.”

They raise grass and alfalfa hay to sell to horse owners, and from May through October provide for 400 head of cattle on a contract basis. In the winter, they repair all the things they broke during the summer, he said.

“There’s a lot of maintenance,” he said, which is his specialty.

The monks come together for lunch, which they take turns preparing, followed by afternoon free time for reading and prayer, before congregating in the chapel at 6 p.m. for contemplative prayer and meditation, followed by 7 p.m. evening prayer.

While the schedule may appear demanding, it’s not a burden at all, Father Hoffman said.

“The regular rhythm of monastic life really does sustain you, both physically and spiritually,” he said. “It sounds pretty rigorous if you’re just looking at it, arranged in a schedule, but your soul, spirit and body adapt to the rhythm of the life as St. Benedict created it.”

He also appreciates the silence and solitude of the pre-dawn hours.

“(It provides) the ability to free your spirit,” he said, “and ask the Lord to take you where he wants you to go.”

Father Hoffman expressed his gratitude to the people of the Archdiocese of Denver for their prayers during his discernment and vows. Eleven priests, along with about 50 people from the metro area attended the solemnity of his profession March 25. Following his 1972 ordination, Father Hoffman served in parishes including Risen Christ, Holy Name in Englewood, Nativity of our Lord and Spirit of Christ, as well as the role of chancellor, and at the seminary and tribunal. He holds a doctorate degree in moral theology from Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul in 1996.

During his profession, in addition to vowing obedience to the abbott, Father Joseph Boyle; and conversion and fidelity to the monastic way of life, he took a third vow of stability to the monastery.

“Stability to the monastery means that I am making my vows here in this house … to this community and to this group of men,” he said. “I have no intention of asking to go anywhere else—this is the place that I feel the Lord has sent me for the rest of my life.”

> For more about St. Benedict’s Monastery and the daily public liturgies celebrated, visit www.snowmass.org.

> For information about the retreat house, visit  www.stbenedictsretreat.com.

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