Prayer and work: A monk’s secrets for prized bread

(AP) Catholicism is sensual. It’s a religion that engages the senses to bring mankind closer to the Divine.

Taste is, of course, one of the senses — one of the ways people have been equipped to experience and apprehend creation. And if tasting offers any pathway to faith, the bread baked on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey by Brother Pachomius Alvarado, O.S.B. just might make a believer out of you.

Alvarado is a man who takes his kitchen time at St. Bernard seriously — so seriously, in fact, that he prays over every batch of bread he makes. A monk’s prayer, he jokes, is the “secret ingredient” in a recipe that, no matter how many times it’s duplicated, can never be fully imitated.

The classic cinnamon raisin Monk’s bread that Alvarado bakes has been around at St. Bernard much longer than he has. The 38-year-old Cuban émigré never knew baking, or monasticism, or even English, before he ended up at St. Bernard.

Now he knows all that and more. Wielding an impressive command of English (to repeatedly apologize for not knowing the language better), Alvarado busies himself with his assigned role at St. Bernard: bake the bread.

When he became a monk, baking was not in Alvarado’s heart: seeking God was. But that’s an endeavor to encompass all others, and — once tasked with baking duties — Alvarado embraced the role with a hungry heart. [More]