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Why are we so obsessed with monks?


Anna Nass - Shutterstock


Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/11/23

Monks, by their very existence, point us toward something higher, and these Ivy League college students are drawn to learning more.

It almost seems like a joke the way slapping the word “monk” on something makes it suddenly popular. 

There’s the Monk Manual planner, beloved by entrepreneurs, professionals and other hard-working folks who want to take a step back to see the big picture. “Inspired by monks. Backed by psychology,” it says on their website.

In fantasy role-playing board games, the monk characters are powerful and important beings.

And now there’s the “monk class” at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania, a class that is so “ultra-popular” that it sparked a flurry of news coverage. According to CNBC: 

To pass Justin McDaniel’s “monk class,” University of Pennsylvania students must ditch their phones — and voices — for 30 days.

The course, formally called Living Deliberately, requires its 14 students to “observe a code of silence, abstain from using all electronic communications and limit their spending to $50 a week” for one month, according to the university’s website. The class often has 300 people on its waitlist, McDaniel says.

What is it about monks? Why are they so popular? Why are young college students clamoring for a chance to learn about a monk’s life and live like one, even in just a small way?

A longing for something more

Monks, by their very existence, point us toward something higher, something more. 

Their choice to live away from the world and devote their lives to God reveals the deep and true things of life in an unforgettable way.

On top of that, monasteries conjure up images of peace and order, with their careful rule of life. These are things that all humans crave and that seem hard to come by in our frenetic world. 

Monks are a symbol, in the eyes of the world, of living for something bigger than ourselves. Their vocation reveals how simplicity and poverty, far from rendering life meaningless, bring a spiritual richness and purpose beyond comparison.

It’s very beautiful and moving to see so many young people craving the ancient and ever-new wisdom that monks offer the world. As St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” 

The hundreds of college students lined up for the “monk class” reveal the restlessness we all know as we seek to find purpose and meaning in life.

Monks have the answer, as they point us toward God and our eternal purpose. We can applaud the popularity of things like the “monk class” and how it is pointing a new generation of young people toward what’s good, true and beautiful in an unlikely setting.

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